Employment: An Introduction

Throughout the employment section, we refer to three different types of jobs. These are:

Employee Jobs

For each employee-type job--defined as a situation in which the respondent has an ongoing relationship with a specific employer--youths age 14 and older are asked about the job's characteristics as of the time they started that job. The survey solicits similar end-date information for each employee-type job lasting more than 13 weeks. For jobs that end after the respondent's 16th birthday (or for on-going jobs held by youths age 16 or older), detailed questions are asked about the workplace. Additional questions similar to the Current Population Survey (CPS), asked of respondents age 15 or older in the round 1 Youth Questionnaire, determined respondents' labor force status in the week before the interview. In round 4 and round 10, all respondents received the CPS section.

Freelance Jobs

Questions specific to freelance employment--that is, jobs for which the respondent performed one or a few tasks for several people without a specific boss, or in which the respondent worked for himself or herself--are unique to the NLSY97. This survey captured many typical youth jobs, such as lawn-mowing and baby-sitting, which are often missing from an employment history. In this section of the survey, respondents age 14 and older were asked about their experiences with freelance jobs. For respondents age 12 or 13, the survey asked these freelance questions about all jobs (without explicitly distinguishing between employee and freelance jobs).


In rounds 1-3, respondents who were age 16 or older and who usually earned $200 or more per week at a freelance job were considered self-employed. Additional information was collected about those jobs as part of the freelance section of the survey. Starting in round 4, respondents were routed through different paths based on age. Those born in 1980-82 answered questions about self-employment in the regular employee jobs section of the questionnaire (regardless of amount earned at that job). Younger respondents born in 1983-84 who met the earnings requirement continued to list self-employment in the freelance section. In addition to answering the freelance or employee jobs questions, these respondents were asked to provide more information about their self-employment. See the Self-Employment Characteristics section for more details.

Important Information About Using Employment Data

  1. Most age restrictions in the CPS, employment, and training sections of the questionnaire refer to age as of the survey date, rather than age as of December 31, 1996, as in all other sections. However, the check items that routed respondents through the rounds 4 and 5 employee and freelance sections were based on age as of December 31, 1996. Users should carefully examine the questionnaire and documentation to ensure that they have correctly identified the age restrictions for a given set of questions. Note that all respondents were at least 14 years old in round 3, so the age 14 restrictions were dropped beginning with that survey. All respondents were at least 18 years old in round 6, and the freelance section was dropped at that point.
  2. Users should also keep in mind that the NLSY97 questions based on the Current Population Survey (CPS) were only included in rounds 1, 4, and 10 of the surveys.
  3. These data are employer-based, not job-based. As a result, the information collected reflects the time a respondent spent with an employer (or self-employed) and not changes of responsibilities or jobs during that period. For linking employers across surveys, even when there are breaks in employment, see the Linking Jobs With Employers section.
  4. See the Self-Employment Characteristics section for information on the special case of respondents who had a freelance job classified as self-employment in rounds 1-3 and continued that job over into the regular employee jobs section in rounds 4-6.