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

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 (R00159.-R00168.) 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.

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

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 (R01530.-R01537.) was collected as part of the initial (1979) round of the NLSY79 and then once more during the Round 26 (2014) data collection. 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 (R01491.-R01499.) 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 (R17743.) inquired about the respondent's perception of how shy or outgoing they were at age 6 and the second question (R17744.) 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 (R38942.-R38948.) 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 (R38942., R38943., R38944., R38946., R38948.) 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: in 2014, respondents answered a stand-alone question about life satisfaction, rating on a 7-point scale how satisfied or dissatisfied they were with life overall.

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 (R27094.). If the answer is "yes," he or she is then read a set of nine statements (R27095.-R27103.) 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 (R27104.) and, for individuals with school-age children, questions on whether the respondent has ever discussed AIDS with any of his or her children (R27106.) and whether the (oldest) child has had instruction at school about AIDS (R27107.).


The NLSY79 has collected information on respondents' perceptions or expectations about the future. Questions were asked in the early years about respondents' expectations for their educational, occupational, and marital futures. Military expectation questions were asked each year from 1979-85.  Finally, fertility expectation questions have been asked in most survey years. Expectation questions that have been included are outlined in Table 2.

A series of retirement expectation questions were added in 2006. Questions include the probability of the respondent working at a certain age, respondent definition of retirement, and respondent preparation for retirement.

Table 2. NLSY79 Expectations Questions

Year Education Occupation Fertility1 Military Marital
1979 R01718. In school in 5 years? R00235. Highest grade expected R01700. - R01708. Age 35 occupational plans R01719. - R01721. Work expectations in 5 years Number of children expected Timing of next child R00431. Intent to enlist R00407. Length of service expected (Rs in military) R01716. Married in 5 years? R01717. Age expect to marry
1980   R03289. - R03290. Age 35 occupational plans R02651. Time will stay in current job   R02357. Intent to enlist R02472. Length of service  
1981 R04197. Highest grade expected R05303. - R05304. Age 35 occupational plans R04471. Time will stay in current job   R04238. Intent to enlist R04353. Length of service R06562. Married in 1 year? (unmarried Rs)
1982 R06668. Highest grade expected R08082. - R08090. Age 35 occupational plans R07029. Time will stay in current job Number of children Timing of next child R06711. Intent to enlist R06853. Length of service  
1983   R10448., R10449. Age 35 occupational plans Number of children Timing of next child R09128. Intent to enlist R09271. Length of service  
1984   R14271., R14272. Age 35 occupational plans Number of children Timing of next child R11215. Intent to enlist R12370. Length of service  
1985     Number of children Timing of next child R16163. Intent to enlist R16322. Length of service  
1986-2012     Number of children Timing of next child    
1 Reference numbers are not provided because multiple questions were asked of different universes in the same survey year. For example, see R37881. in 1992 for total number of children expected and R00155. in 1979 for expected timing of next child.

Related Information: For measures of job satisfaction, users should consult the topical subsection Job Satisfaction. Additional information related to health can be found in the Health section. Items capturing the quality of marital relationships can be found in the Marital Status, Transitions & Attitudes section.

Comparison to Other NLS Cohorts: The NLSY79 children and young adults have been asked a number of attitude and expectation questions over time. Since 1994, the young adults were asked the same women's roles questions as the NLSY79 Main Youth were asked.

The NLSY97 Youth Questionnaire collects information about the respondents' perceptions of the justice system in each round. The round 1 NLSY97 survey attempted to ascertain the impact that school has had on the feelings of well-being experienced by various youths. Respondents who were enrolled at the time of the survey were asked to agree or disagree with statements regarding their school's environment and their teachers. In round 1 respondents were also asked about their perception of their peers' activities and behaviors.

The Mature Women and Young Women were asked about their attitudes toward working roles. The NLSY97 respondents, the Young Women, and Young Men have all answered questions about their educational and employment expectations for the future; however, the specific questions and reference periods have varied widely. 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.


Menaghan, Elizabeth G. "The Impact of Occupational and Economic Pressures on Young Mothers' Self-Esteem:  Evidence from the NLSY." Presented: Annual Meetings of the Society for the Sociological Study of Social Problems, Washington, D.C., August 9, 1990.

Pearlin, Leonard I.; Lieberman, Morton A.; Menaghan, Elizabeth G.; and Mullan, Joseph T. "The Stress Process." Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 22 (December):  337-353, 1981.

Rosenberg, Morris. Society and the Adolescent Self-Image. Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1965.

Rotter, Julian B. "Generalized Expectancies for Internal Versus External Control of Reinforcement." Psychological Monographs General and Applied, 80 (1, Whole No. 609), 1966.

Strocchia-Rivera, Lenore. Self-Esteem and Educational Aspirations as Antecedents of Adolescent Unmarried Motherhood. Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin, 1988.

Survey Instruments and Documentation Interested readers should examine Section 20 in the 1979 questionnaire on "Family Attitudes" and Section 22 on "Aspirations and Expectations" for the majority of attitude and expectations questions collected in that survey year. The women's role items were also collected in the 1982 questionnaire (Section 15), the 1987 questionnaire (Section 20), and in the "Income and Assets" section of 2004 questionnaire. Job aspirations can be found in questionnaire sections 18 (1980), 20 (1981), 17 (1982), 15 (1983), and 16 (1984). The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale items can be found in Section 14 of the 1980 questionnaire, Section 15 of the 1987 questionnaire, and Section 11 of the 2006 questionnaire. The health sections of the 1985 (Section 12) and 1992 (Section 11) questionnaires collect the sociability and Pearlin Mastery Scale items, respectively.
Areas of Interest Most of the variables described in this section can be found in the "Attitude" area of interest. Fertility expectations are located in the "Children," "Birth Record," and "Birth Record xxxx" areas of interest, and military expectations can be found in the "Military" area of interest. Users can find the sociability measure in the "Health" area of interest.