All Young Adult Survey rounds have included a variety of questions about income. The income questions generally reference the calendar year previous to the survey year. For example, in 2002, the reference year in the income questions was 2001.

All respondents are asked about their own income in the previous calendar year from these sources:

  • Wages, salary, commission or tips from all jobs
  • Service in the Military
  • Their own farm
  • Their own business or practice

From 1994 to 1998, income from service in the military was asked separately from wages, salary, tips and commission. Since 2000, these two questions have been combined into a single question. Respondents with a spouse/partner are asked a comparable set of questions about the spouse/partner's income from those same sources. 

All survey years have included questions about whether the respondent and/or (if applicable) their spouse/partner received unemployment compensation. From 1994 to 1998, beginning and ending dates were collected for unemployment compensation spells as was the amount per week received in each spell. Since 2000, the amount of detail collected has been reduced, and respondents have provided information for themselves and/or their spouse/partner concerning:

  • Receipt of any unemployment compensation
  • The number of months  unemployment compensation was received
  • The amount of unemployment compensation received in the last month they were on unemployment

Any respondent who has biological and/or nonbiological children living in their household are asked the following questions about child support:

  • Whether either the respondent or the spouse/partner are entitled to child support
  • If there is a spouse/partner, whether the respondent, the spouse/partner, or both are entitled to receive child support
  • The amount the respondent is entitled to receive
  • How this amount was agreed to (through 2016)
  • If any state guidelines were used (through 2016)
  • If so, which state (available only in the Geocode data) (through 2016)
  • The number of the respondent's children who are entitled to child support (through 2016)
  • The total amount the respondent was supposed to receive
  • The total amount the respondent actually received
  • The number of the spouse/partner's children who are entitled to child support (through 2016)
  • The total amount the spouse/partner was supposed to receive
  • The total amount the spouse/partner actually received

Young Adults have been asked questions about public assistance income sources in all survey rounds. In 2020, respondents were asked about any stimulus payments related to the Covid pandemic received by the respondent or their spouse/partner.

From 2000 to 2014, Young Adults who are living with at least one other adult family member other than a spouse/partner have been asked to provide their best estimate of their family's total income from all sources. 

Nonemancipated Young Adults

Prior to 2000, all young adults went through the income section with marital status being the primary determinant of flow through the section. In 2000, a decision was made to reduce the number of questions asked of non-emancipated Young Adults (Young Adults who are under age 18, live with at least one parent, have no spouse/partner, and have no children). The only income questions they are asked concern their own income. From 2000 to 2014, they were also asked their family's total income. They are also asked about their sense of financial strain (a three-item scale discussed here) and about ownership and debt related to motorized vehicles. Since 2008, they have also been asked whether they have any credit cards that they pay the bill for and, if so, how much they currently owe. Since 2010 they have also been asked whether they live in public housing.

Total Family Income

From 2000 to 2014, the Young Adult questionnaire included a direct question about total family income, asked of YAs with at least one related adult household member other than a spouse/partner. This question was dropped as part of the 2016 redesign.

Top Coding

Like the other NLS datasets, the NLSY79 Young Adult is a public dataset utilized widely throughout the research and public policy communities, and survey staff take extensive measures to protect the confidentiality of the survey respondents. One method of protecting confidentiality is to “top code” unusually high income values.

Top coding has been done in the YA dataset on the respondent’s income/wages, spouse/partner's income/wages, and total family income, as needed, since the 2000 survey year. From 2000 to 2014, the procedure was to average values of 100,000 and above for YA individuals and 200,000 and above for YA total family income and substitute that average for all values in the top-coded range. When only one such value exists, that value is combined with either a similar value or with the next smaller value. Cases then have the average used as their value. Beginning in 2016, the topcoding procedure has been to average the top 2% of values on any topcoded variable; cases then have this average used as their value.

Income/wage variables will have a codebook note (see the NLSY79 Documentation section for a description of codebook components) in NLS Investigator about the top-coding. For example, the QES-75J.## variables in 2008 have a note saying "This variable has been top coded in loops 1 and 2. The value of 156666 represents the mean of the top values in those loops." Another example: Q15-5-TOP in 2014 has a note saying "This variable has been top coded. The value of 131715 represents the mean of the top values."

Comparison to Other NLS Cohorts: The NLSY79 has asked extensive questions about income in all survey rounds and includes constructed variable for total net family income and poverty status. A small amount of income information is gathered for the NLSY79 children. Information on income is regularly collected from the other cohorts. Users should note, however, that the income sources included have varied widely over time and among cohorts. For more precise details about the content of each survey, consult the appropriate cohort's User's Guide using the tabs above for more information.

Survey Instruments Questions on income are found in the Young Adult Instrument, Section 15, Income and Assets.
Area of Interest YA Income