NLSY79 Appendix 15: Recipiency Event History Data

NLSY79 Appendix 15: Recipiency Event History Data

The NLSY79 surveys have solicited information about program recipiency since the first round in 1979. Methods used to collect information about program recipiency from 1979-1992 and from 1993 to the present differed. These methods are described below. The variables found in the RECIPIENT MONTH and RECIPIENT YEAR areas of interest have been constructed to provide users with a more straightforward sequence of variables containing monthly and yearly receipt amounts (if any) and flags for the survey year in which the data was reported. The roots of these qnames are contained in the table below. Recipiency event history variables exist for five types of recipiency (question name roots in parentheses): AFDC (Q13A-), Food Stamps (Q13F-), SSI/SSDI/other public assistance/welfare (Q13SSI-), unemployment compensation (Q13U-), and spouse/partner unemployment compensation (Q13S-). Since survey year 2018, respondents have been asked to distinguish between SSI and SSDI if possible. Array items are present from January 2017 through the current interview.

















The current NLSY79 release contains revised recipiency event history data for survey years 1979-2002. Some anomalies in the construction of the recipiency event history data in previous releases necessitated these revisions. Researchers should use only the recipiency variables with reference numbers beginning with "G." These include the revised variables for survey years 1979-2002 (containing data from calendar years 1978 through the 2002 interview) and the most up-to-date data series for 2003 through the most recent survey. The unrevised original series has been included in the release as a non-primary set of variables for historical purposes.

This appendix first contrasts the collection of information on recipiency in the paper and pencil interviewing (PAPI) years (1979-1992) to that of the computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) years (1993-present). It then describes the creation processes for the recipiency event history variables. For a discussion of the kinds of problems necessitating the revisions can be accessed, click here.

Program Recipiency in Paper-and-Pencil Interviews

In paper-and-pencil (PAPI) NLSY79 rounds (1992 and prior), information on R and spouse unemployment compensation, AFDC, Food Stamps and other welfare recipiency was gathered for the calendar year prior to the interview year only. For instance, someone interviewed in 1992 was asked about the months of recipiency in 1991 only. An average figure per week/month was then asked for the entirety of 1991. For example, if a respondent said s/he was receiving AFDC in March, April and May of 1991, and again in September and October of 1991, s/he was only asked for an average amount per month received during those months in 1991.

Data collected in this manner generates a complete event history only for respondents who were interviewed at each interview date. For those respondents, information would be present for each month benefits were received from January 1978 through December 1991 (the year before the 1992 interview). However, a respondent skipping one or more interviews would be missing information for each calendar year preceding missed interview years. For example, a respondent missing the 1985 and 1990 interviews would be missing recipiency information for calendar years 1984 and 1989.

Program Recipiency in CAPI Interviews

In the computer-assisted-personal-interviewing (CAPI) NLSY79 rounds (1993 - present) respondents are asked about receipt from government programs since their last interview. Surveys through the 1990s (1993, 1994, 1996 and 1998) also contain some specialized questions to aid the transition from the previous method to the current method of collection and to minimize the number of respondents with any interruptions in their month-to-month event histories.

Respondents are now asked if they have received benefits at all since their date of last interview. Individuals who report no recipiency since their last interview year to the next section of the interview. If the respondent answers "yes," s/he is then asked for the date when the benefits began. This is considered the first spell. Respondents are then asked if benefits have been received continuously since this start date. If the respondent answers "yes," receipt has been continuous, s/he is asked for the average dollar amount received per month/week for each year in the spell. These respondents then proceed to the next section of the interview. If the respondent answers that receipt has not been continuous since this first start date, s/he is asked to report the first date s/he stopped receiving benefits. Average dollar figures per month/week are collected for each year within this first spell.

All respondents who report completing a first spell since their last interview are asked if they started receiving benefits again since the first spell ended. In the 1993, 1994 and 1996 survey years, Information on up to five spells is collected in the manner described above. If there are more than five spells, the respondent is asked about the first five and the most recent. Beginning in 1998, respondents were asked about all spells of receipt. 

In interviews following the initial CAPI interview (1993 in most cases), respondents are asked to verify the last month they reported receiving benefits (if any). They are then asked about any recipiency since their date of last interview. In the electronic questionnaires, the retrospective recipiency event history is collected from the date of the last interview, providing a more continuous longitudinal record, even for respondents who skip interviews.

The flow of questions in the recipiency modules is illustrated in Figure A15.1.


Figure A15.1 Flow of Program Recipiency Questions in CAPI Interviews

In the 2018 survey, some updates were made to the Income module of the questionnaire, including some relatively minor updates to the recipiency-related segments. While the structure of each of the recipiency question series remained essentially the same, the SSI questions (beginning with Q13SSI-) were split into separate segments for the respondent and/or any dependent children (Q13SSI-), and a spouse/partner (Q13SSI-SP-) if applicable. In addition, respondents were asked to differentiate between SSI and SSDI if they know which they are receiving. In addition, specification was added to the TANF segment of questions (beginning with Q13A-) to specify that the questions refer to dependent children where applicable. Finally, language referencing SNAP was added to the Food Stamps segment of questions (Q13F-) as the program has been renamed.

Variable Creation

PAPI Interviews

For most of the PAPI years, the yearly and monthly receipt/non-receipt variables are taken directly from responses, and the average monthly value of benefits is used for each month that the respondent reports receiving benefits. For unemployment compensation, weekly averages were collected. This weekly average was multiplied by 4.3 and then used as the monthly average. However, there are two main exceptions to this. First, the Food Stamp program underwent a change in 1979. Prior to this, recipients were allowed to purchase food stamps at a price below their market value. Because the 1979 interview asked respondents about recipiency in 1978, respondents who reported receiving food stamps were asked how much they paid for the food stamps in addition to the dollar value of the food stamps received in the last month they received benefits in 1978. The net transfer for 1979 is estimated by subtracting the dollar amount paid from the dollar value received. In all subsequent years, respondents were only asked for the dollar value received in the last month of the previous year that benefits were received.

The second exception concerns SSI and other forms of public assistance/welfare. The series of questions pertaining to public assistance/welfare and SSI has undergone some changes since the beginning of the survey. Initially, in 1979, respondents were asked in a single question if they had received income from any of the sources mentioned above. Respondents were also asked in which months benefits were received and the average amount received each month. They were then asked to identify from which sources they received benefits. However, it is not possible to identify how much of this amount is attributable to each source if more than one source was reported.

From 1980 through 1984, the question was divided into two separate ones. Respondents were first asked if they had received any benefits from SSI in the preceding year. They were then asked in which months benefits were received and the average amount received each month. A second set of questions asked respondents if they had received public assistance/welfare in the preceding year and, if so, in which months and the average amount received each month.

The format of the questions was changed once again in 1985 and remained the same through 1996. As with the initial interview in 1979, respondents were asked if they had received any benefits from SSI, public assistance/welfare. They were then asked in which months benefits were received and the average amount received each month. However, unlike the 1979 interview, respondents were not asked to identify the source of the benefits.

In 1998, to address major welfare reform policies passed in 1996, the series was altered once again. Respondents were asked first about SSI receipt only. A separate series of questions was added to solicit information on other types of general public assistance.

The final changes were made for the 2000 interview and have been in effect since that time. Information on other forms of public assistance was curtailed significantly. The series of questions collecting information about SSI remained in the instrument.

Users should be aware that the responses since the 2000 interview contain the least amount of information, pertaining to SSI receipt. This is reflected in the recipiency event history variables since 2000 as well.

CAPI Interviews

Due to the way PAPI interviews collected data (for the calendar year prior to the survey year), information on recipiency is available beginning with January of 1978. Designating this to be month 1 of the monthly event history, all start and stop dates can be identified by their month number. This may be easily calculated using the following algorithm: month_# = (year - 1978) x 12 + month. For instance, June of 1993 would be: (1993 - 1978) x 12 + 6 = 186. Once all start and stop dates have been calculated, the event history for each individual can be created.

To illustrate this, consider Case 1 from Table A15.1. This respondent was not interviewed in 1992 which means that her/his event history from the PAPI survey years would contain information up through December of 1990. Thus, the beginning month of the CAPI event history would be January of 1991 (month 157). According to the example, this respondent was receiving benefits in December of 1991 and continued to do so until June of 1991 (month 162) and then received no further benefits. The dollar amount event history would then be formed by placing dollar value reported for the average benefits in 1991, $135, into months 157 - 162 and zeros into the dollar amounts for months 163 - 186. This same logic can be applied to each respondent, regardless of the number of reported spells of recipiency: placing reported dollar amounts into all months within a spell (from start_spell(i) to stop_spell(i) ) and zeros into all months outside of spells (1 + stop_spell(i) to start_spell(i+1) -1).

To illustrate more completely how each respondent's event history was created, Table A15.1 depicts four additional hypothetical cases. Cases 2 and 4 represent respondents who receive continuously after their start dates; Case 3 depicts a respondent who reports no benefit receipt; and Case 5 represents a respondent who reports two completed spells of recipiency. Table A15.2 presents the event histories which would result if the information had been given by the respondents portrayed in Table A15.1.

Table A15.1 Five Hypothetical CAPI Cases

Question Case
1 2 3 4 5
Interview date 6/93 6/93 10/93 7/93 8/93
Year of last interview 1991 1991 1991 1991 1991
Receive Dec year before last interview? Y Y N N N
Spell_0 continuous? N Y - - -
First stop date spell_0 6/91 - - - -
Average monthly/weekly benefits in '91 months (rec'd Dec or year before last int) 135 - - - -
Receive since Jan of last interview? - - N Y Y
Start date spell_1 - - - 3/91 3/91
New spell since stop date spell_0 - - - - -
Start date spell_1 - - - - -
Spell_1 continuous? - - - Y N
Stop date spell_1 - - - - 9/91
Average monthly/weekly benefits in '91 months (1st new spell) - - - - 200
New spell since stop date spell_1? - - - - Y
Start date spell_2 - - - - 2/93
Spell_2 continuous? - - - - N
Stop date spell_2 - - - - 5/93
Average monthly/weekly benefits in '93 months (2nd new spell) - - - - 225
New spell since stop date spell_2? - - - - N
Average monthly/weekly benefits in '91 months (rec'd contn'ly since last start date) - 145 - 157 -
Average monthly/weekly benefits in '92 months (rec'd contn'ly since last start date) - 152 - 160 -
Average monthly/weekly benefits in '93 months (rec'd contn'ly since last start date) - 175 - 163 -

Table A15.2 Resultant Event Histories


Case 1

Case 2

Case 3

Case 4

Case 5

1/91 135 145 0 0 0
2/91 135 145 0 0 0
3/91 135 145 0 157 200
4/91 135 145 0 157 200
5/91 135 145 0 157 200
6/91 135 145 0 157 200
7/91 0 145 0 157 200
8/91 0 145 0 157 200
9/91 0 145 0 157 200
10/91 0 145 0 157 0
11/91 0 145 0 157 0
12/91 0 145 0 157 0
1/92 0 152 0 160 0
2/92 0 152 0 160 0
3/92 0 152 0 160 0
4/92 0 152 0 160 0
5/92 0 152 0 160 0
6/92 0 152 0 160 0
7/92 0 152 0 160 0
8/92 0 152 0 160 0
9/92 0 152 0 160 0
10/92 0 152 0 160 0
11/92 0 152 0 160 0
12/92 0 152 0 160 0
1/93 0 175 0 163 0
2/93 0 175 0 163 225
3/93 0 175 0 163 225
4/93 0 175 0 163 225
5/93 0 175 0 163 225
6/93 0 175 0 163 0
7/93 -4 -4 0 163 0
8/93 -4 -4 0 -4 0
9/93 -4 -4 0 -4 -4
10/93 -4 -4 0 -4 -4
11/93 -4 -4 -4 -4 -4
12/93 -4 -4 -4 -4 -4

In each CAPI interview from 1993 through the present survey year, information is collected for all time up to the current interview date. Because all respondents are not interviewed in the same month, the resultant event histories would be of unequal length. In order to avoid this, a -4 is placed into each monthly dollar value from the month following the interview month to last month of the field period for the most recent survey. These -4s function merely as place savers and will be replaced by information collected from the next interview. For example, if the respondent represented by Case 1 is interviewed in September of 1994 and reports no benefit receipt since the last year, then the -4s for July to December of 1993 become 0s and -4s are placed in the dollar values for October to December of 1994. These new -4s would later be replaced by information from the 1996 interview.

Handling Don't Knows and Refusals

In PAPI years when the respondent did not know whether s/he had received benefits in the previous year, a "-2" was placed in all months and dollar values for that year. For respondents who refused to answer this question, "-1" was entered into all months and dollar values for that year.

In CAPI years, when asked for the start or stop date of a spell, a respondent could respond "don't know." When the respondent does not know (or refuses to answer) the start date of a spell of recipiency, s/he is then asked approximately how many months/weeks s/he received benefits and how much s/he received in the last month/week s/he received benefits. If a respondent does not know the start date and there are valid responses for these questions (i.e., responses greater than zero), the start date is set at the first possible point of the unfilled event history and "-2" is placed into the months that the respondent reports receiving. For example, if a respondent last interviewed in 1990 and being interviewed in 1993 responds that s/he has received benefits since January of the last interview year but does not know when s/he started receiving, the start date is set at January of 1990. If this same respondent reports that s/he received benefits for six months and received $200 the last month s/he received benefits, then "-2" would be filled into the January through June of 1990 dollar values for these months. The dollar value monthly variable for July 1990 through the interview date would then be filled with zeros. If the respondent does not know the stop date but has reported a start date, the same logic is employed using the reported start date.

Fill Flags

The recipiency variables have been assigned an XRND survey year classification. The electronic questionnaire format collects recipiency information from years when an individual has missed an interview. This allows variables for past years to be updated with data from the most recent survey, similar to the Work History arrays. The traditional non-interview code "-5" is not found in these data. In order to identify the "true" non-interviews in each year, a series of fill flags have been created. These are monthly variables which indicate the interview year from which the information was collected. For the vast majority of the PAPI years, the data will have come from the interview after that calendar year, i.e., data for March 1985 will have been provided in the 1986 interview. Respondents for whom variables representing months between 1978 and 1991 that are not filled in this manner (from the interview year after that calendar year) will have generally missed a number of interviews and had their information filled in from a CAPI survey year years later, when the event history format began collecting data from the date of last interview.