The NLSY79 is a nationally representative sample of 12,686 young men and women born in 1957-64 and first surveyed in 1979. These individuals were interviewed annually through 1994 and then interviewed on a biennial basis. Since their first interview, many of the respondents have made transitions from school to work, and from their parents’ homes to being parents and homeowners. These data provide researchers an opportunity to study a large sample that represents American men and women born in the 1950s and 1960s, and living in the United States in 1979. A key feature of this survey is that it gathers information in an event history format, in which dates are collected for the beginning and ending of important life events. Labor force activity is detailed in this manner. Although a primary focus of the NLSY79 survey is labor force behavior, the content of the survey is considerably broader. The survey contains an expansive set of questions ranging from child-care costs to welfare receipt. For example, the survey includes detailed questions on educational attainment, training investments, income and assets, health conditions, cognition, workplace injuries, insurance coverage, alcohol and substance abuse, sexual activity, and marital and fertility histories.

Data Collection

The NLSY79, started in 1979 by the US Department of Labor, covers a national sample of persons born 1957-64 with oversamples of Black and Hispanic people. In 1986, the study began to follow the children of the female respondents to study the health, social, emotional and cognitive development of the second generation. Data were collected annually from 1979 to 1994 and biannually thereafter. Data are now available from Round 1 (1979) to Round 28 (2018).


The NLSY 79 plans to include a more substantial health data component that would include biomarkers as well as additional cognitive assessments. Currently, anthropometric measures include height, weight, eye and hair color, right/left-handedness, but no biomarker data has been collected.

User Guide and Publications