Marriage and Children

Dating, Marriage & Cohabitation; Sexual Activity, Pregnancy & Fertility; Children: An Introduction

The NLSY79 survey provides data on respondents' experiences with dating and sexual activity, marriage or marriage-like relationships, pregnancy, and children. Most years of the survey ask some respondents about this information. Every NLSY79 survey has included a section on fertility and both men and women are asked if they have had children. Data on child care have been collected within various topical sections of the NLSY79 questionnaires.

Marital Status, Marital Transitions, and Attitudes

Information on the marital status of respondents, or if not married, the presence of an opposite sex partner is available for every round of the survey.

Marital History/Transitions: A series of edited Supplemental Fertility File variables that reflects the beginning and ending dates of marriages was constructed for 1982 through the present. These variables include the month and year the respondent began a first, second, or, between 1988-2010, a third marriage and the month and year a first or second marriage ended. Starting with the 2012 release, the constructed marital transition data was expanded to the month and year the seventh marriage began.

A series of relationship satisfaction questions were asked during the 1988, 1992, and 1994-and-beyond interviews of those mothers living with a spouse or opposite-sex partner.

Cohabitation: Information concerning cohabitation is available from the 1990, 1992 and forward surveys and includes month and year of cohabitation. Beginning in 2002, respondents were asked detailed questions about their cohabitation experiences during any unmarried spell lasting three months or longer.

Sexual Activity and Contraception

Respondents were asked about their sexual activity during limited survey years. Questions included whether they had ever had sexual intercourse. Once the respondent answered the questions, he or she was not asked the series in subsequent surveys. Since 1982, NLSY79 respondents have regularly been asked about their use of contraception. In 1984 respondents were asked if they had ever had a sex education course and whether that course included information on contraception, menstrual cycle and sexual diseases.

Fertility and Children

Topics covered and data collected include Age at First Birth, Fertility, Expectations and Desires, and Fertility and Relationship History. NLSY79 surveys are designed so that it is possible to construct a detailed history of each respondent's fertility. The first three NLSY79 surveys (1979, 1980, 1981) have very short fertility sections. In 1982, the fertility data collection was greatly expanded due to additional funding provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Beginning in 1983, an even longer fertility section was fielded and since 1986, the even-year Fertility sections have collected detailed information in conjunction with the child assessments and interviews. A vast collection of information on NLSY79 respondents' children is available on the NLSY79 Child and Young Adult file. 


Data on types and locations of child-care arrangements are available for most years of the survey.