Attitudes & Expectations

Attitudes & Expectations


Created Variables

SCALE SCORES: These variables contain standardized scale scores for several sets of attitude scales that have been administered at various survey points, including:

  • Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale
  • Pearlin Mastery Scale
  • Rotter Locus of Control Score
  • Satisfaction with Life Scale
  • General Anxiety Disorder Scale

Information has been gathered on NLSY79 respondents' attitudes and expectations of the future. Various non-cognitive tests have been administered as well.


Women's roles: One of the major sets of attitude questions in the NLSY79 relates to respondents' assessments of women's roles. While a variety of surveys have examined women's roles over time, the NLSY79 is unique because it tracks how an individual's view of women's roles changes, enabling researchers to understand how attitudes toward women's activity in the labor force evolve over the life cycle.

The NLSY79 has asked a series of eight questions about women's roles in four interviews (1979, 1982, 1987, and 2004). Respondents were asked a statement and answered if they strongly agreed, agreed, disagreed, or strongly disagreed with the statement. Table 1 illustrates the eight questions and shows the change in responses from 1979 to 2004 for individuals who answered both series of questions.

Table 1. Percent of NLSY79 Respondents Who Either Agree or Strongly Agree with Statement (Unweighted Data)

Question 1979 2004 Change
Woman's place is in the home, not the office or shop 23.5 9.9 -13.6%
A wife with a family has no time for outside employment 30.3 17.0 -13.3%
A working wife feels more useful than one who doesn't hold a job 66.3 49.2 -17.1%
Employment of wives leads to more juvenile delinquency 27.4 26.1 -1.3%
Employment of both parents is necessary to keep up with the high cost of living 70.3 80.4 10.1%
It is much better if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family 44.3 25.5 -18.8%
Men should share the work around the house with women 80.7 90.3 9.6%
Women are much happier if they stay home and take care of children 33.3 30.0 -3.3%

For researchers who are interested in tracking these issues across generations, the NLS has included similar attitudinal measures in surveys of other cohorts. A subsample of the NLSY79 Young Adults were asked these questions in 2002 and all were asked them in 2006. Those who hadn't answered the questions in 2006 were asked them in 2008. Mature Women were asked about their attitudes toward working roles in 1972, 1977, 1982, and 1987, while Young Women were surveyed in 1972, 1978, 1983, and 1988. This set of additional questions enables researchers to not only track changes over time within a cohort but also to understand how attitudes toward work change between cohorts for individuals in a similar age range.

School Satisfaction: Another set of attitude questions, fielded in 1979, examines how in-school respondents feel about their education. These questions (SCHOOL-3A_1 to SCHOOL-3B) ask students to state their attitudes on issues such as how satisfied they are with their school and how safe they feel in school. Overall, the unweighted data show that most students expressed a positive attitude toward their school and schooling.

Political Questions 2008: Political attitude questions were included in the NLSY79 2008 survey for the first time. These questions are similar to questions that have been a staple in the American National Election Survey for years and are particularly timely information on a unique presidential election year.

Self-Perceptions: In selected survey years, the NLSY79 has collected information from respondents on their perceived self-esteem, their feelings of control over their own lives, their sociability, and their perceptions of influential people in their lives.

Rotter Locus of Control Scale: The Rotter Internal-External Locus of Control Scale (ROTTER-1A to ROTTER-4B) was collected as part of the initial (1979) round of the NLSY79 and then again during the Round 26 (2014) data collection (or in the 2016 data collection if respondents weren't interviewed in 2014). The scale is a four-item abbreviated version of a 23-item forced choice questionnaire adapted from the 60-item Rotter Adult I-E scale developed by Rotter (1966). The scale was designed to measure the extent to which individuals believe they have control over their lives through self-motivation or self-determination (internal control) as opposed to the extent that the environment (that is, chance, fate, luck) controls their lives (external control). The scale is scored in the external direction-the higher the score, the more external the individual. In order to score the Rotter scale in the NLSY79, one has to generate a four-point scale for each of the paired items and then sum the scores. For example, the first pair has the following two statements:

  1. What happens to me is my own doing. (internal control item)
  2. Sometimes I feel that I don't have enough control over the direction my life is taking. (external control item)

Respondents were asked to select one of each of the paired statements and decide if the selected statement was much closer or slightly closer to their opinion of themselves. The following shows how the scale is constructed:

Internal Control Item External Control Item
Much closer Slightly closer Slightly closer Much closer
1 2 3 4

Each of the four paired items is constructed in the same manner as the above example. The values for each item are then summed. The maximum possible score is 16, indicating high external control, while the minimum possible score is four, indicating high internal control. The summed score on the NLSY79 abbreviated version correlates well with self-esteem, education, and social class, but the internal consistency of the scale is quite low for the whole cohort (alpha: .36). Separate estimates by race and sex do not yield significantly higher reliability estimates.

Additional information on the Rotter Scale can be found in Appendix 21.

Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale: The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale was administered during the 1980, 1987, and 2006 interviews. This 10-item scale, designed for adolescents and adults, measures the self-evaluation that an individual makes and customarily maintains. It describes a degree of approval or disapproval toward oneself (Rosenberg, 1965). The scale is short, widely used, and has accumulated evidence of validity and reliability. It contains 10 statements of self-approval and disapproval with which respondents are asked to strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree. Items A, B, D, F, and G need to be reversed prior to scoring in order for a higher score to designate higher self-esteem. Users should consult the relevant survey year questionnaire for specific wording. Typically, the raw items are summed or the standardized items are averaged to create a summary score. The scale has proven highly internally consistent, with reliability coefficients that range from .87 (Menaghan, 1990) to .94 (Strocchia-Rivera, 1988), depending on the nature of the NLSY79 sample selected. Additional information on this scale can be found in Appendix 21 and Appendix 27.

Influence of Significant Others: The "On Significant Other" section of the 1979 NLSY79 questionnaire is the source of the discrete set of nine variables (OTHER-2 to OTHER-3H) dealing with the attitude of the most influential person in each respondent's life toward certain key career, occupational, residence, and childbearing decisions. These variables are available for respondents who were between the ages of 14 and 17 in 1979.

Sociability: In 1985, two questions were asked of the respondent about the degree to which he or she was shy or outgoing. The first question (HEALTH-SOC_1) inquired about the respondent's perception of how shy or outgoing they were at age 6 and the second question (HEALTH-SOC_2) asked them to consider how shy or outgoing they are as an adult.

Pearlin Mastery Scale: The Pearlin Mastery Scale is a measure of self-concept and references the extent to which individuals perceive themselves in control of forces that significantly impact their lives. It consists of a 7-item scale developed by Pearlin, et al. (1981). Each item (PEARLIN-1 to PEARLIN-7) is a statement regarding the respondent's perception of self, and respondents are asked how strongly they agree or disagree with each statement. Four response categories are allowed: (1) strongly disagree; (2) disagree; (3) agree; and (4) strongly agree. The scale is constructed by adding together the responses from each item; thus, a range of 4 to 16 is possible. To obtain a positively oriented scale (that is, a higher score represents the perception of greater mastery over one's environment), negatively phrased questions (PEARLIN_1 to PEARLIN_3, PEARLIN_5, PEARLIN_7) should have their response sets reverse coded. Additional information on this scale can be found in Appendix 21 and Appendix 27.

Ten Item Personality Measure--TIPI: Respondents received this personality measure in the 2014 round. Developed by Gosling et al (2003), the TIPI is a brief, 10-item measure of the Big Five (or Five-Factor Model) dimensions of personality. Respondents rate (on a 7-point scale from "disagree strongly" to "agree strongly") how well 10 pairs of personality traits apply to them.

Life Satisfaction: Starting in 2014, respondents have been answering a stand-alone question about life satisfaction, rating on a 7-point scale how satisfied or dissatisfied they are with life overall.

Satisfaction With Life Scale-SWLS: Respondents are answering these questions as part of the 60-and-over Health Module that each cohort is answering successively as they reach 60. Respondents rate agreement with five statements regarding general satisfaction with life.

General Anxiety Disorder Scale-GAD: These questions are being administered as part of the 60-and-over Health Module. Respondents report how often they experience various feelings associated with worry and anxiety.

Note: Information on the CES-D depression scale, previously discussed in this section of the User's Guide, has been moved to the Health section.

Health Related Attitudes-AIDS Knowledge: In 1988, a series of questions was administered to ascertain respondents' familiarity with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This information allows researchers to examine the impact of such information on subsequent health-related behaviors.

The series begins with a question to determine if the respondent has ever heard of AIDS (AIDS-1). If the answer is "yes," he or she is read a set of nine statements (AIDS-2 to AIDS-10) about AIDS. For each of these statements, the respondent is asked "--to tell if you think it is very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, very unlikely, definitely not possible, or if you don't know how likely it is that a person will get AIDS or the AIDS virus infection that way. How likely do you think it is that a person will get AIDS or the AIDS virus infection from--"

  • eating in a restaurant where the cook has AIDS?
  • sharing plates, forks, or glasses with someone who has AIDS?
  • using public toilets?
  • sharing needles for drug use with someone who has AIDS?
  • kissing on the cheek a person who has AIDS?
  • being coughed or sneezed on by someone who has AIDS?
  • attending school with a child who has AIDS?
  • mosquitoes or other insects?
  • having sex with a person who has AIDS?

The series concludes with questions on whether an employer ever provided any information about AIDS to the respondent (AIDS-11) and, for individuals with school-age children, questions on whether the respondent has ever discussed AIDS with any of his or her children (AIDS-13) and whether the (oldest) child has had instruction at school about AIDS (AIDS-14).

Lastly, each year the interviewer notes the respondent's attitude during the interview.