Job Satisfaction and Work Attitudes

Job Satisfaction and Work Attitudes

A variety of questions were asked of respondents in the men's cohorts that assessed both attitudes toward their own employment and attitudes about work in general.

Global job satisfaction. During most survey years, respondents described how they felt about either their current job or their current/last job. The basic question in this series asked respondents to rate their general attitude on a scale from "like it very much" to "dislike it very much." In some surveys, the general question was followed by an open-ended request for a description of the aspects of his job the respondent liked most and least. These responses were coded and included in the data set. Finally, data comparing respondents' attitude toward their current job with their attitude toward their job in a previous survey year were collected during certain early surveys of each cohort. Table 1 provides information about the years in which these questions were asked and Table 2 provides the reference numbers for each item.

Facet-specific job satisfaction scale. During the 1978 and 1981 surveys of Young Men, employed respondents (wage and salary workers or self-employed respondents) were asked a series of detailed questions relating to specific aspects of their jobs. On a scale from "very true" to "not at all true," respondents rated a series of descriptive statements about the pay, working conditions, chances for promotion, job security, competency of their supervisor, and friendliness of their coworkers. These variables can be located in NLS Investigator by searching for the phrase "Job Satisfaction Index."

Note: The job satisfaction questions were sometimes asked multiple times in a single survey, with each question addressed to a different universe of respondents. Similarly, the facet-specific scale was asked separately of self-employed Young Men and Young Men employed as wage and salary workers, with slight differences in the items included. To obtain a picture of job satisfaction for all respondents, it will be necessary to combine these items.

For the Young Men, a job satisfaction index can be constructed by combining (a) the global job satisfaction measures, (b) select items from the facet-specific job satisfaction ratings, and (c) responses to a question on whether the respondent would stay in his current job if he were free to take any job.

Motivation and commitment to work. Both Older and Young Men respondents answered questions assessing their motivation for working and their commitment to their jobs. The motivation question asked the respondent whether liking his work or receiving high wages was more important. The commitment to work questions first asked whether the respondent would continue to work if he obtained enough money to live comfortably; open-ended follow-up questions asked the respondent to provide a reason for his answer. Finally, respondents in both cohorts were asked whether they would prefer to work more hours for more money, work fewer hours for less money, or maintain their current hours and compensation. The "other work attitudes" columns in Table 1 and Table 2 below list the years in which these questions were asked of each cohort and the reference numbers for the various items.

Retrospective evaluation of work. Respondents were occasionally asked to look back over a period of time and assess changes in their employment. The first set of questions asked both Older and Young Men whether they felt that they had progressed, held their own, or moved backward in the past 5 years. If they had progressed or moved backward, respondents provided additional information about the specific ways in which that movement had occurred (e.g., changes in wages; hours; fringe benefits; status, level, or responsibility; job security). A second series asked whether the respondent felt that the pressures of his job had changed in the past 5 years, whether his ability to keep up with the pace of his job had changed, and whether the respondent felt more or less fatigued at the end of the day compared to 5 years earlier.

In the 1990 survey, several questions were addressed to Older Men sample persons evaluating their entire work life. This series asked about the respondent's general satisfaction with his career, whether his work was mainly a source of income or was enjoyable in itself, and what aspect of his work the respondent found most enjoyable. Years and reference numbers for the evaluation of work experience questions are found in the "other work attitudes" columns in the tables at the end of this section.

Retirement Attitudes and Experiences. Older Men respondents have regularly answered questions about when they intended to retire and what factors affected that decision. In every survey except 1968 and 1990, respondents reported the age at which they expected to retire. Five surveys (1967, 1969, 1971, 1980, and 1983) asked respondents whose plans had changed since the previous interview about the reason for the difference. Finally, every personal interview except 1990 asked employed respondents whether their employer had a compulsory retirement age, whether they would work longer than that age if they could, and whether they expected to retire earlier than the mandatory age.

Limited information was gathered about the retirement plans of the respondent's wife. In 1981 and 1983, married respondents stated their wife's expected retirement age. The 1981 survey further asked whether the respondent and his wife had made decisions jointly or separately about when to retire.

Respondents in the Older Men cohort answered questions in two surveys about training courses taken in preparation for retirement. In 1971, respondents who participated in any kind of training stated whether they expected to use the training after they retired. The 1981 interview asked a series of questions specifically tailored to retirement training courses, including whether the respondent had ever taken such a course, the duration of the course, and whether he had found it to be helpful.

Finally, respondents were asked several questions about financial obligations that might affect retirement plans. In 1971 and 1976, the respondent stated the year when he expected to have no dependents other than his wife. The 1971 survey also asked whether the respondent wanted to leave an inheritance to his children.

Timing of actual retirement. In later surveys, retrospective information was collected about the retirement decisions made by respondents. The final five surveys included a series of questions asking why the respondent retired, whether the respondent's employer encouraged him to retire, whether the respondent would change the age at which he retired in retrospect, and whether he would have continued to work if his employer had permitted it. In 1980-90, respondents reported whether they had ever retired and the year this occurred, even if they had subsequently reentered the work force.

Attitudes toward retirement. Older Men respondents were asked a number of questions about their attitudes toward retirement. The reference numbers for these questions and the years in which each was asked are provided below.

Reference Numbers for Older Men Retirement Attitudes Questions

Question topics (R = respondent) 1971 1976 1978 1980 1981 1983 1990
Is R looking forward to retirement R02110.            
Agree/disagree with statements about retirement (e.g., retirement is a pleasant time of life, work is the most meaningful part of life)     R03861.-R03865. R04250.-R04254. R05024.-R05028.    
Wife's attitude about R's retirement R02111.            
Friends' attitudes about their own retirement R02116.            
Is life in retirement better/worse than R expected   R03177. R03860. R04228. R04803. R05690. R06155.
Things liked best/least about retirement         R04844.-R04850.    

In addition, several questions in the 1971 survey were combined to create an index (R02528.) of the respondent's overall attitude toward retirement. Included in this index are the three 1971 questions in the above table, a question about the ages at which the respondent's retired friends left the workforce, and the question asking whether the respondent wanted to leave an inheritance to his children.

Social networks and activities. Respondents regularly provided information about their plans for retirement. The 1966 survey asked whether they intended to take another job after retiring from their current employer and the number of hours per week they would like to work. Seven subsequent surveys contained a more general question about plans after retirement; respondents were asked to select all that applied from a list including travel, relax, enjoy a hobby, volunteer, or work with or without pay. If the respondent planned to work, follow-up questions asked about the type of work he would like and the number of hours per week he would work.

Three interviews asked respondents about their leisure time activities. In 1978, these questions were addressed to all respondents; in 1981, they were asked only of respondents who were retired; and in 1990, these data were gathered from all respondents not living in an institution. Although the exact list of activities varied among surveys, it typically included sports or exercise, reading, working at hobbies, visiting friends or relatives, and volunteer work. Follow-up questions asked for the amount of time spent at each activity.

Respondents were asked about their social and familial relationships in 1981 and 1990. A series of questions in both of these interviews asked about sources of emotional support for the respondent other than his spouse. In addition to the total number of people with whom the respondent had a close emotional relationship, the surveys recorded the relationship of the closest confidante, the distance to his or her residence, and the frequency of contact between the respondent and this person. A similar series of questions asked to whom the respondent would turn if he had a serious financial problem. In 1990, an additional pair of questions gathered information about the person who most often helped the respondent with daily tasks like grocery shopping or housecleaning. Finally, both the 1981 and 1990 interviews asked the respondent to describe how often he visited or talked with children who did not live in his household.

Attitude toward women working. Respondents were periodically asked a series of questions regarding their attitude toward the employment of women, particularly married women with children. Reference numbers for these questions are provided in the tables at the end of this section. In 1967, the Older Men responded to a single question that asked which of five statements best described their feelings about a married woman with children ages 6-12 taking a full-time job outside the home. The statements were as follows: she should never work, it's okay only if absolutely necessary to make ends meet, it's okay if family would like extra income, it's okay if she prefers to work, or she should work.

In the 1971 survey of Older Men, these attitudes questions were changed into a three-statement series. On a five-point scale from "definitely all right" to "definitely not all right," respondents were asked how they felt about a married woman with children ages 6-12 taking a full-time job outside the home if it was absolutely necessary to make ends meet, if she wanted to work and her husband agreed, and if she wanted to work but her husband did not like the idea.

This same series of three statements was read to Young Men respondents in 1971, 1976, and 1981. However, the Young Men questions referred to a married woman with preschool-aged children rather than older children. In 1981, a second set of questions was added to the Young Men survey about the employment of wives in general, without the presence of children specified. On a five-point scale from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree," respondents reported how they felt about eleven statements (e.g., a woman's place is in the home, not in the office or shop; employment of both parents is necessary to keep up with the high cost of living; men should share the work around the house with women).

Other work-related attitudes. In every survey through 1976, Young Men respondents were asked what type of work they hoped to be doing at age 30. These occupations were coded using the Census Bureau coding system; in addition, some surveys include codes for the occupation using the various indices described in the "Occupations & Occupational Prestige Indices" section of this guide. Desired occupation at age 30 questions are not included in Table 4.17.2 below; these variables can be easily located by searching on "Age 30" in the Young Men data set.

Finally, two surveys asked Young Men respondents who had moved between interviews whether they were more or less satisfied with their employment now compared to their employment before the move.

User Notes

Cross-cohort analyses of job satisfaction and attitudes toward women working questions are possible using items from the Mature and Young Women cohorts and the NLSY79.

Related Variables: The Health section of this guide describes psychological well-being questions not directly related to employment. The Pensions, Social Security and Retirement section discusses questions about retirement attitudes asked of the Older Men. The Job Characteristics Index and Discrimination sections include information about specific work-related issues. The Knowledge of the World of Work scale, addressed to Young Men, is explained in the Aptitude, Achievement & Intelligence Scores section. Questions regarding reservation wages and the respondent's reaction to hypothetical job offers are described in the Wages section.

Survey Instruments & Documentation: These questions are located within the "Current Labor Force Status," "Work Experience and Attitudes," "Attitudes toward Work," and "Retrospective Work History" sections of the Older and Young Men questionnaires. More information on constructing the job satisfaction scale can be found in Appendix 23 of the Young Men Codebook Supplement.


Andrisani, Paul J.; Appelbaum, Eileen; Koppel, Ross; and Miljus, Robert C. "Work Attitudes and Labor Market Experience: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Surveys." Philadelphia, PA: Center for Labor and Human Resource Studies, Temple University, 1977.

Table 1. Reference Numbers for Older Men Work Attitudes Questions

Survey Year Satisfaction with current job Factors liked best / least about job Current job comp. to previous job Attitude toward women working Other work attitudes
1966 R00131., R00550. R00132.-R00137. -- -- motivation R00138., R00169. commitment to work R00139., R00160., R00551.
1967 R00751., R00767. R00752.-R00757. R00702., R00703., R00768., R00769., R01047.-R01050. R00775. --
1969 R01600., R01272., R01258. R01259.-R01264. R01273. -- --
1971 R01988. R01989.-R01994. R01986., R01987. R02001.-R02003., R02522. desired hrs R01702., R01703. progressed R02054.-R02060. pressure/pace R02077.-R02079.
1976 R02997. -- -- -- desired hrs R02932., R02933. progressed R03086. pressure/pace R03099.-R03102.
1978 -- -- -- -- desired hrs R03778., R03779.
1980 R04116. -- -- -- commitment to work R04115.
1981 R04594. -- -- -- --
1983 R05536. (curr./last) -- -- -- --
1990 R06055., R07150. (curr./last) -- -- -- evaluation of work life R06158.-R06162.

Table 2. Reference Numbers for Young Men Work Attitudes Questions

Survey Year Satisfaction with current job Factors liked best / least about job Current job comp. to previous job Attitude toward women working Other work attitudes
1966 R00226. R00227.-R00232., R00602. -- -- motivation R00317.
1967 R00832., R00846. R00833.-R00838. R00847., R00848. -- --
1968 R01359., R01374. R01360.-R01365. R01375., R01376. -- --
1969 R01943. R01944.-R01949. -- -- commitment to work
1970 R02738. R02739.-R02744. R02751., R02752. -- --
1971 R03507. R03508.-R03513. R03505., R03506. R03523.-R03525. desired hrs R03207., R03208. commitment to work R03537. progressed R03580.-R03586. residence change R03685.
1976 -- -- -- R04943.-R04945. desired hrs R04572., R04573. progressed R04991. pressure/pace R04995.-R04998.
1978 R05535., R05563. R05536.-R05541., R05564.-R05569. -- -- --
1980 R06027. R06028.-R06033. -- -- --
1981 R06910. (curr./last) R06911.-R06916. -- R07724.-R07737. commitment to work
R07904.-R07907. residence change R08010., R08035.