Survey Instruments

Survey Instruments

Questionnaire Supplements

Separate instruments called "supplements" have been used since the onset of the NLSY79 to administer distinct sets of questions. The NLSY79 has made extensive use of supplements for collecting information from separate universes such as schools or children or for administering confidential sets of questions on illegal activities or abortion. The following section describes each supplemental instrument used for the NLSY79. The use of such separate supplements has diminished with CAPI-administered interviews. In the main youth and young adult instruments, all supplements are now incorporated as electronic modules in a questionnaire. Children still use multiple supplements, one self-report, one interviewer-administered, and one completed by the mother.

Illegal Activities Form J (1980). This confidential questionnaire supplement, administered during the 1980 survey, contains a series of questions designed to collect information on the extent of respondents' participation in various delinquent and criminal activities such as:

  • skipping school
  • alcohol/marijuana use
  • vandalism
  • shoplifting
  • drug dealing
  • and robbery

This series supplements those on reported contacts with the criminal justice system collected within the main questionnaire.

Employer Supplement. Information about each employer for whom a NLSY79 respondent has worked since the last interview has been collected since 1980. One Employer Supplement is administered for each employer and contains questions about gaps when the respondent was not working, the number of hours worked, the type of work done, and the wages earned at that job. Note: Comparable information for the 1979 survey can be found in the "On Jobs" section of the main questionnaire and within the separate single sheet 1979 Employer Flap. Beginning with the 1993 CAPI interviews, all employer supplement questions appear within the body of the main questionnaire.

Question Numbering. Five numbering systems have been used to identify questionnaire items within the Employer Supplement (Table 3). Although data from up to 10 jobs are collected, the main data set includes information on only the first five jobs since few individuals work at more than five jobs between interviews. Data on all ten jobs are used to construct a series of summary variables for hours and weeks worked; see the Labor Force Status, Time & Tenure, and Work Experience sections for more information.

Table 3. Employer Supplement Question Numbering Conventions: 1980-present

A supplement identifier, i.e., the letter B, representing the first supplement, through F, the fifth supplement, is combined with the deck and column numbers preprinted in the instrument. The deck numbers for the first Employer Supplement would be B1, B2, B3, and B4 while the second supplement would use C with each deck and column number. The question number QB140 thus refers to B (the first supplement), 1 (deck 1), 40 (column 40), while QC166 refers to Employer Supplement C, deck 1, column 66.
1988 Letter designations, i.e., ESB, ESC, ESD, ESE, ESF, continue to identify the specific supplement in use; however, deck and column numbers are not used. Appended to the supplement identifier is the actual question number as printed in the supplement. For example, ESB.1 refers to the first supplement, question 1.
1992 A series of supplemental deck numbers are attached to the column numbers preprinted in the supplement. Question numbers 7439-7831 refer to information collected in the first supplement, 7939-8331 to the second supplement, 8439-8831 to the third supplement, 8939-9331 to the fourth supplement, and 9439-9831 to the fifth supplement.
1993-1996 The designation QES and a number, e.g., QES5, indicates that this series of questions collected information about the fifth employer. Hyphenated numbers attached to the QES5, e.g., QES5-26, QES5-27, etc. indicate the specific question number within the series, while a decimal number following a question number, QES5-26.3, reflects the third repetition of that question for that employer.
1998-present Beginning in 1998, the number identifying the employer was moved to a decimal after the question number. The question previously labeled QES5-26.3, for example, was now designated as QES-26.05.03. The decimal number ".05" indicates this information was collected about the fifth employer. Again, ".03" represents the third repetition of question 26 for the fifth employer.

Fertility Supplement (1983). Respondents (both male and female) who were not interviewed during 1982 were administered a special set of supplementary fertility questions during the 1983 survey. The Fertility Supplement was designed to collect complete fertility data, including all live births for males and females, and all pregnancy losses and contraception between pregnancies for females. For those not interviewed in 1982, these questions replaced the fertility questions found in Section 10 of the 1983 questionnaire.

Confidential Abortion Forms. Biennially beginning in 1984, female NLSY79 respondents have completed a short confidential abortion form which elicited information on the number and dates of each abortion. Copies of these supplementary questions are provided within the survey instrument sets. The 1984 form also collected information on the dates that respondents left school prior to 1979 if leaving school was associated with early childbearing. Beginning in 2002, the abortion form was included in the main instrument. 

Drug Use Supplement (1988, 1992, 1994, and 1998). The 1988 supplement contains the confidential set of drug use questions which were, through a random assignment process, self-administered by the respondent in half of the cases and administered by the interviewer in the other half. Questions were asked on age at first use of marijuana and cocaine, extent of lifetime and most recent use, and method(s) practiced in using cocaine. The 1992 and 1994 supplements contain the confidential set of questions on respondents' use of cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, or other drugs. Users should note that while the 1988 and 1992 supplements are bound as separate booklets, the 1994 and 1998 supplements are bound with the main questionnaire.

Childhood Residence Calendar (1988). The 1988 questionnaire contained a special section detailing the living arrangements of respondents from birth through age 18. The Childhood Residence Calendar, the interviewing aid used to collect these data, depicts for each year of life the type of parent (biological-, adoptive-, or step-) with whom each respondent lived for at least four months and, for those ages when he or she was not living with a parent, in what other arrangements the respondent resided, such as, with grandparents, foster parents, friends, or in a children's home, detention center, or other institution.

Supplemental Data Collections

High School Survey (1980). A supplemental survey of the last secondary school attended by civilian NLSY79 respondents was conducted in 1980. This survey gathered information on each school's grading system, course offerings, dropout rate, student body composition, and faculty characteristics, as well as respondent scores from a variety of intelligence and aptitude tests. Copies of the high school survey instruments, the "School Questionnaire" and the "Student's School Record Information" form, are included within the documentation item called the NLSY High School Transcript Survey: Overview and Documentation

Transcript Surveys (1980-83). Transcript information on up to 64 courses was collected from high school records for civilian NLSY79 respondents who were expected to complete high school within the United States. A copy of the instrument used to collect transcript information, called the "Transcript Coding Sheet," is included within the NLSY High School Transcript Survey: Overview and Documentation.

ASVAB. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) was administered to most NLSY79 respondents in 1980 as part of a Department of Defense effort to renorm this military enlistment test. The scores from this supplemental data collection are included in the NLSY79 data file. For details, see the Aptitude, Achievement & Intelligence Scores section.

Interviewer's Reference Manual (Question-by-Question [Q by Q] Specifications)

Each questionnaire or set of survey instruments is accompanied by an Interviewer's Reference Manual. This document provides NORC interviewers with background information on the NLSY79 and detailed question-by-question instructions for administering and coding the questionnaire, Employer Supplement, Household Interview Forms, and other survey supplements. Separate Q by Q's exist for each survey year. Printed copies of the CAPI help screen information, which each interviewer could access during the course of the interview, replace the traditional interviewer's manual instrument beginning with the 1993 release.