Gaps in Employment

Gaps in Employment

Created Variables

EMP_GAP_START_WEEK_XXXX.XX.The start week of a gap on a civilian job.

EMP_GAP_START_YEAR_XXXX.XX. The start year of a gap on a civilian job.

EMP_GAP_END_WEEK_XXXX.XX. The end week of a gap on a civilian job.

EMP_GAP_END_YEAR_XXXX.XX. The end year of a gap on a civilian job.

YEMP_CURFLAG.01, YEMP_CURFLAG.02, etc. Roster item that indicates whether or not respondent is currently working for Employer 01, 02, etc. 

CV_JOB_13_WKS.xx. Identifies whether a respondent's job lasted less than 13 weeks. Available for rounds 1-15.
The suffix refers to job number (.01=Job 1, .02=Job 2, etc.)

CV_JOB_26_WKS.xx. Identifies whether a respondent's job lasted less than 26 weeks. Available starting in round 16.
The suffix refers to job number (.01=Job 1, .02=Job 2, etc.)

CV_UI_EVER, CVC_UI_EVER. Number of months respondent ever received unemployment.

Respondents age 14 and older are asked about gaps within jobs and gaps between jobs. These periods when a respondent was not working are not counted in the various created variables summarizing total weeks worked and tenure with an employer. For more information on these variables, see Tenure section and Hours Spent at Work section.

In round 20, respondents with gaps within and between jobs were asked if the gaps were due to COVID-19 or the larger Coronavirus pandemic. Respondents with gaps between jobs (since March 2020) were also asked if they applied for unemployment insurance, and if so, they were asked follow-up questions that gathered more details on the process and outcome. Round 20 COVID-19 employment topics are also addressed in part in the Employers and Jobs section.

Important Information

Job Types

There are key differences in the classification of freelance and self-employed jobs, mainly relating to respondent age and weekly earnings. These job types are explained in more detail in two areas of the User Guide: Employment: An Introduction and Self-Employment Characteristics.

Using Gaps in Employment Data

  1. The employer roster is the only source of information about start and stop dates of employment. The roster also contains flags indicating whether the employer was current at the date of interview, whether the job was in the military, and whether the employer was part of a paid internship experience. The interview questions that collected this information prior to the creation of the roster are not released on the data set but are shown in the questionnaire. Conversely, the roster items appear in the data set but have no questions associated with them in the questionnaire.
  2. In rounds 1-3, the gaps section asked about periods when a respondent was not working at an employee-type job. If the respondents had any freelance jobs or self-employment, part of the gaps series asked how many gap weeks were spent working at those jobs.
  3. In round 4, respondents born in 1980-82 reported employee-type jobs and self-employment at the same time. Both types of jobs are treated equally in the gaps section--that is, the survey program identifies weeks when the respondent was not working at either an employee or self-employed job and asks about the respondent's activities in those weeks. In theory, these respondents would have been asked about "periods when you weren't working" rather than "periods when you weren't working at an employee-type job." However, due to a programming error, these older respondents did not go through the alternate series but instead were asked the same series as younger respondents. Even though the dates in the questions asked only about weeks when the respondent was not working at any job, the question text referred specifically to "employee-type jobs." It is not known whether any respondents were confused by this question wording. It appears that most respondents simply reported their reasons for not working and job search activities for the weeks referred to in the question text, as they would have in the alternate question series. This programming error was corrected in round 5.

Gaps Within Jobs

Regardless of how long the job lasted, the respondent is asked to report any periods of a week or more within an employee job when he or she did not work for the employer, not including paid vacations or sick days. After a within-job gap is established, follow-up questions probe for the main reason for that gap, such as on strike, on layoff, job ended but began again, or unpaid vacation or leave. Next, the respondent is asked to state the number of weeks that he or she spent looking for work or on layoff during the gap. Any respondent who is classified as not looking for work is asked for the reason (e.g., did not want to work, child care problems, vacation). Finally, female respondents who report a job that ended after their 16th birthday are also questioned on employment gaps due to pregnancy or the birth of a child.

Beginning in rounds 4 and 5, older self-employed respondents (those born in 1980-82 for round 4 and those born in 1980-83 for round 5) answer similar questions about gaps within a self-employed job. All self-employed respondents answer these questions from round 6 on. However, these questions are in a separate series from the questions for employee-type jobs to allow for more appropriate wording.

Beginning in round 9, non-traditional jobs were added as a separate job type. Non-traditional jobs are often a series of different assignments, usually separated by within-job gaps. For example: Some respondents may report a job situation where they are on-call for the employer but have extended periods of not working for the employer. Respondents with non-traditional jobs can receive different types of questions, depending on how many job gaps they've had since last interviewed. Those who have less than five gaps within nontraditional jobs go through the same series of within-job gap questions as regular jobs. However, those with five or more gaps are asked specific questions about the most recent and longest gap.

Gaps Between Jobs

In rounds 1-3, the number of weeks that the respondent did not work at any employee job was calculated. For each gap between jobs, the respondent was asked to state the number of weeks he or she spent working at a freelance job or searching for another employee job. Using this information, the total number of weeks spent not working, not looking for work, or not on layoff was computed for each respondent. Those who did not report search activity were questioned on the reason that they did not look for work during that period (e.g., did not want to work, child care problems, vacation). Data was also collected on the type of search activity in which the respondent participated (e.g., contacted employer directly, contacted an employment agency, placed an ad).

When the self-employment section was introduced in round 4 for respondents age 16 and older, the gaps questions changed. Younger respondents, those born in 1983-84, continued answering the same job questions from rounds 1-3. For respondents born in 1980-82, the gaps questions now incorporated self-employed jobs. These older respondents reported gaps when they were not working at either an employee job or self-employed. For each gap, the respondent was asked if that time was spent searching for another employee job. (In round 4, older youths born in 1980-82 were not asked about working at a freelance job during a gap since they did not report this type of job starting in this round.)

Round 5 followed similar age restrictions and question structure as in round 4. Respondents born in 1984 answered the same questions asked in rounds 1-3. Those born in 1980-83 reported gaps when not working at an employee job or when self-employed. Respondents also reported any job search activity during these gaps.

Beginning in round 6, all respondents were old enough to answer the self-employment questions, so the separate path for younger respondents was removed. All respondents report gaps not working at employee or self-employed jobs and on job search activity during gaps.

Beginning in round 19, respondents answered a new question asking if they had a disability that would prevent them from accepting a job during the next six months.

Comparison to Other NLS Surveys: The NLSY79 records information about gaps both within and between jobs in all survey years. Data include reasons for the gap, the total number of weeks not working, stop and start dates, and job search activity during the gap. Since 1987, female respondents have been asked about periods of paid leave due to pregnancy or the birth of a child. Similar information has been collected from the Children of the NLSY79 age 15 and older since 1994. The Original Cohort respondents provided data on gaps within jobs throughout the survey years; Mature and Young Women also answered questions on gaps between jobs beginning in 1995. For more information, consult the appropriate cohort's User's Guide.

Survey Instruments: These questions are found in the employment section of the Youth Questionnaire. Question names begin with YEMP- and roster items begin with YEMP_.

Related User's Guide Sections Tenure
Work Experience
Main Area of Interest Employment Gaps
Supplemental Areas of Interest Fertility
Employment: Fringe Benefits
Employment: Job Search
Employment: Jobs & Employers
Employment: Tenure w/ Employer