Work Experience

Work Experience

Cumulative Labor Force Experience

For survey years 1979-1998 and 2006, the standard set of definitions of labor force status used by the Current Population Surveys (CPS) was used for coding the employment status of NLSY79 respondents "Labor Force Status." The NLSY79 Work History programs incorporate further refinements to allow for weeks of indeterminate status, due to erroneous respondent reporting or interviewer recording (see the Work History section). The NLSY79 summary indicators are then constructed, using these Work History definitions for weekly labor force status. The Labor Force Status section of this guide includes detailed definitions of CPS and NLSY79 Work History labor force concepts.

The detailed collection of dates of employment and gaps in employment over the history of the NLSY79 allows construction of a cumulative picture of a respondent's labor force activity over the course of the survey. A large number of summary variables are created based upon the week-by-week labor force status arrays produced by the Work History program (see the Work History and Labor Force Status sections for more information). These summary variables provide a count of the number of weeks a respondent held a given labor force status, the total number of hours worked (if any), and the total number of weeks since the respondent's last interview. Variables are also calculated indicating the percentage, if any, of weeks that are not accounted for in the summary variables discussed above, due to missing data or indeterminate status in the Work History arrays.

These variables, constructed within the Work History programs, consist of two sets. One series uses "Last Interview Date" as the reference period, and the second uses "Past Calendar Year" (the full calendar year previous to the year of current interview) for its summations. However, it is possible to construct similar cumulative figures for periods of time of particular interest to them. For instance, one may be interested in compiling a summary of work or labor force experience for respondents over a specific five-year period. Similarly, a summary of activities with employers having certain characteristics (part-time, temporary, full-time, CPS, certain levels of earnings, and so forth), as well as the extent of such practices such as dual job holding among respondents, may be compiled. A gaps history can also be assembled using, as appropriate, gaps reported within the tenure with an employer or gaps where no employer affiliation is reported.

Cumulative Active Military Service: Cumulative weeks of active military service are constructed during the creation of the NLSY79 Work History data set. However, civilian employment has precedence over military activity in the week-by-week labor force status arrays. Therefore, the number of weeks in active military service in the past calendar year will not include any weeks during which the respondent also held a civilian job. The full period of active military enlistment can be verified by using data on enlistment and discharge dates from the actual military section in the main questionnaire. The number of weeks in the active military since the last interview is calculated by subtracting the starting week from the ending week so that the entire tenure is included.

Gaps between Employers (No Affiliation with an Employer): As mentioned, gaps may be reported between the start and stop dates for a given employer, reflecting periods for which a respondent considers himself or herself affiliated with an employer but not actively working. In addition, gaps in employment reflect periods when the respondent reported no affiliation with any employer. These gaps are often referred to as "between-job gaps."

Indeterminate Labor Force Status during Gaps: The exact duration of gaps in weeks (within-job gaps or between-job gaps) is available, as well as the number of those weeks the respondent was "out of the labor force (OLF) - not looking for work" as opposed to "unemployed - looking for work or on layoff." Therefore, if a respondent was  unemployed for the entire period of the gap, the specific weeks for those labor force statuses can be determined. However, for a gap in which the respondent was OLF part of the time and unemployed part of the time, the specific weeks that the respondent occupied each status cannot be determined.  Researchers should be aware that, while the number of weeks the respondent occupied each status is accurate, the precise weeks for each status may not be. The Work History Data section provides details on the assignment of non-employed labor force status.

Weeks with Indeterminate Activity: Users should be aware that, under some circumstances, it is not possible to determine labor force status for a given week. These indeterminations arise with incomplete or invalid start or stop dates for employers or gaps. For example, an element of the date is missing or the stop date precedes the start date. Variables reflecting the percentage of weeks that were unaccounted for since the last interview and in the past calendar year are computed. Hence, users may find respondents who worked 52 weeks of the year but also have 100 percent of their weeks unaccounted for. These variables alert researchers to problem cases that may need to be examined more closely or eliminated from analysis. The Work History Data section provides additional information.

Employer Characteristic Histories: It is possible to build a limited history of certain employer-based characteristics (earnings/hourly wages, occupation, and so forth). These histories will be limited in the sense that many of these characteristics are reported only at the date of each interview.  Should change occur from one interview date to another, the point of actual change cannot, in most instances, be precisely determined. (Information collected in select survey years may permit more definitive identification of interim changes occurring between interview dates for certain characteristics.) 

Strictly speaking, it is possible that an occupational change from one interview year to the next could reflect only one of several during the period between interviews. Characteristics such as hourly wage may be of less concern in this regard, as some numeric progression or regression should be apparent. Even for these indicators, interim and temporary cutbacks in compensation in times of economic downturn may be missed. Noting these limitations, it is possible to construct a reasonably complete history of experience with specific employers, such as CPS employer or all employers.

CPS Employer as a Primary Focus: The CPS employer (current/or most recent at date of interview) is the focus of many researchers. These employers can be linked in much the same way as non-CPS employers, with one extra set of variables identifying the employer as CPS. However, it is important to note that, while the CPS employer is usually the first employer, this is not always the case in survey years 1980-92. 

Discrepancies in the order in which interviewers administered, or respondents reported, employers for Employer Supplements resulted in a relatively small number of cases in each pre-CAPI survey year for which the CPS is not the first employer, but rather Job #2 or Job #3, etc. The CPS employer can be identified in each year by a "yes or no" variable, which is present for each employer. A "1 - yes" code indicates the CPS employer. It is possible that an employer that is the CPS employer in one year and remains the CPS employer in the next year will be Job #1 in the first year and Job #2 (or higher) in the second year. In this case, the information for Job #2 in the second year would be a continuation of the information for Job #1 in the first survey year. While in 1979 Job #1 is always the CPS job, in 1993 and after, the CAPI instruments ensure that the CPS job (if one exists) will always be Job #1.

Comparison to Other NLS Cohorts: Total number of weeks worked and total weeks of tenure variables have been constructed for each cohort. 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 and Documentation Appendix 9: "Linking Jobs Through Survey Years," found in the NLSY79 Codebook Supplement, as well as the "Work History Programs" and "Work History Program Description" sections of the NLSY79 Work History documentation, provide information on tenure related variables.  See also the Jobs and Employers section.

The "Work History Programs" (WORKHIST.PL1 on the public release) and "Work History Program Description" section of Appendix 18 in the NLSY79 Codebook Supplement provide information on the creation of work-related variables.