Backfilling the NLSY79

I am really pleased to announce that the Kauffman Foundation has awarded a grant to Ohio State University to extend data collected in the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79). 

The NLSY79 is among the most widely used surveys in the social sciences, with a constituency that spans public health, social work, psychology, sociology, demography, economics, geography, financial planning, and public policy. 

The NLSY79 began in 1979 with a nationally representative sample of 12,686 individuals born in 1957-64. These individuals were surveyed annually from 1979 to 1994 and biennially from 1994 onward. 

Almost 8,000 respondents—80% of the eligible sample, given that some respondents died or were intentionally dropped—participated in the latest round. Most respondents have been followed from full-time schooling through the first decades of their work lives, and have reported detailed information on virtually every employer encountered along the way. 

As a result, the NLSY79 is a preeminent data source for researchers and policy makers seeking to understand school-to-work transitions, patterns of employment and nonemployment, job and occupational mobility, wage growth, gender and race differences in labor market outcomes, and much more. 

Self-employment is among the topics for which the NLSY79 has been widely used, given that respondents identify the “class” of worker (government; private, for-profit company; non-profit organization; self-employed; or working in family business) for every job reported.

Longitudinal surveys are not changed without a great deal of debate and consideration and yet the NLSY79 has reacted to the groundswell of desire among researchers for more data on entrepreneurship to add an entire module on business ownership to its 24th round of collection. 

Most importantly, NLSY79 is going beyond just asking about business ownership in the prior 2-year period, which is their typical practice for most topics, and gathering data on all business ownership experiences over the previous several decades. 

What I have described to this point the staff overseeing the NLSY79 has been able to squeeze out of their existing contract to administer the survey on behalf of Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Kauffman funding will support two additional activities designed to increase the usefulness of the data:

Task 1: the full linking of the retrospectively-collected data across the many rounds of collection to all relevant previously-collected data

Task 2: a follow-up question in 2012 to clarify any discrepancies in the responses of respondents over time.

Retrospective collection is very difficult. Based on cases that have already been completed in 2010, OSU projects that (i) about 1,500 respondents (20% of the sample) will report business ownership in the 2010 module; (ii) roughly 1,100 non-current businesses will be reported by these respondents; and (iii) as many as 700 of these non-current businesses will merit follow-up questions to confirm linkages with previously-reported jobs. 

Correcting the data administratively and proactively will jump start research in this area and eliminate gray areas of responses that otherwise would be thrown out.
No other major longitudinal population surveys are underway in the U.S. which could be considered real alternatives to this type of collection. While I have for many years tried to get some updates going to the PSID design, I am not aware of any current or prospective efforts at PSID to expand their collection of entrepreneurship data. 
While work is underway at OSU on this collection, the actual data from 2010 won’t be available until 2011. Additionally, the clarifications on responses will not be available until 2013. 

Thus, we are pleased to make this announcement and hope that it will start to get the research community excited about using these data when available. If you would like to be notified about the data’s release, please add a comment to this blog posting. For now that is our best way of keeping track of interested potential researchers.

I am posting here the draft questionnaire being using in the 2010 fielding of the business ownership module. Questions about this effort can be directed to Audrey Light.

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