What is the National Longitudinal Surveys Program?

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An interest in statistical research may lead you to an interest in the National Longitudinal Surveys Program (NLS). Begun in 1965, this is a program run by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS does a number of different surveys, but many of them are “cross-sectional” surveys, which collect data from a specific group or subset of people at one particular time. When a new survey is done, some of the same people may carry over, but it usually includes new people in the group.

What sets the NLS apart from other statistical surveys run by the BLS is that this program’s surveys collect data from the same group of people over a long period time, checking in with the group periodically to ask them questions about things like job changes and their economic status. Because these surveys “follow” the same people for a number of years, they provide data that helps researchers to understand trends and long-term life changes.

An Example of an NLS

Here is an example of an National Longitudinal Survey: NLSY97. This is a survey that was originally given to youth between the ages of 12 and 16 as of the end of 1996. 9,000 youth participated in that original survey, which also contained interview time with them and their parents. The original questions also pulled together demographic information on all the participants. Every year, the original participants are interviewed again regarding changes in their lives. The initial survey was done 20 years ago, so those 9,000 participants now range between the ages of 32 and 36. As you can imagine, many things have changed in terms of their schooling, job situations, and economic status. The data gathered from this ongoing survey allows researchers to note how things have changed for them over a long period of time, and to analyze and draw conclusions based on that data. This particular survey looked at youth because researchers wanted to study more deeply how youth transition from their teens years into adulthood.

How People Access and Use the Surveys

Information about the NLS program can be found both at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the website of the NLS. Researchers can access information at these sites and learn more about the original surveys (some of whose participants are now much older) as well as the more recent ones. There are areas of the NLS site for new users as well as more experienced ones. The information found within the surveys can be helpful to all people who study labor statistics, such as members of the press or people who influence government policies. They can help people thoughtfully consider new questions and answers about things like moving out of poverty or the effects of unemployment.

In addition to analyzing trends in education and jobs, the surveys provide information on other things as well, including marriage and fertility issues, how people spend their time, ongoing family dynamics and relationships, and drug and alcohol use. These kinds of information, gathered through the National Longitudinal Surveys Program, help researchers have a “long-range” portrait of a specific group of people.

See also: The 15 Cheapest Graduate Programs in Human Resources

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