CHRR Celebrates 50th Anniversary

The Center for Human Resource Research (CHRR) celebrates 50 years as a pioneer in the development of survey methodology and as a world leader in groundbreaking social science research

CHRR, a multidisciplinary research organization in the College of Arts and Sciences, was awarded a four-year, $52 million contract from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, to continue to conduct the 1979 and 1997 National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth (NLSY79 and NLSY97). The National Longitudinal Surveys (NLS) are a set of surveys gathering information on the labor market experiences of American men and women at multiple points in time. The brainchild of the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the NLS was started at Ohio State in the mid-1960s. The program has run continuously for nearly five decades and has brought more than $400 million in funding to Ohio State.
Founded in 1965, CHRR specializes in developing state-of-the-art survey software, designing survey instruments, overseeing field work, and generating and disseminating fully documented data sets. CHRR has helped administer the NLS — three separate surveys that have followed more than 30,000 Americans for years — since its inception nearly 50 years ago.
“In the latter half of the 1960s, CHRR launched the first four National Longitudinal Surveys, now called the original cohorts: Older Men; Young Men; Mature Women and Young Women,” said Elizabeth Cooksey, professor of sociology and CHRR director.
“In the late 1970s the NLSY79 was added, with all children born to NLSY79 women getting their own survey beginning in 1986. The most recent cohort is the NLSY97.”
Data from the NLS have served as an important tool for economists, sociologists, geographers, health and education researchers and policy makers studying determinants of labor supply, earnings and income distribution, job search and separation, labor market inequities, school to work transitions, marital and fertility expectations and trajectories, crime and delinquency and health behaviors.
“In developing the NLS surveys, Randy Olsen, professor of economics and former CHRR director; and the research scientists at CHRR, have provided a critical data resource that allows researchers and policy makers to investigate key economic and social issues facing this country,” said David Manderscheid, executive dean and vice provost of the College of Arts and Sciences. “They are pioneers in cutting-edge survey methodology and policy-oriented research.”
The NLSY79 includes 12,686 persons who were 14 to 22 years old when the survey began in 1979. The NLSY79 Child and Young Adult surveys comprise more than 11,000 children who were born to NLSY79 women. The NLSY97 follows the lives of 8,984 American youth born between 1980-84 who were ages 12-17 when first interviewed in 1997.
Participants in the NLSY79 survey have been followed every year through 1994 and every other year since then. The Children of the NLSY79 have been tracked biennially since 1986. The NLSY97 cohort has been followed annually through 2011 and every other year since then.
CHRR will be working on the 27th and 28th rounds of the NLSY79 and the 17th through 19th survey rounds of the NLSY97 cohort during this new contract.
Image-Char-decWhat data are gathered in these youth surveys?
Do you want to know how various levels of education translate into jobs and labor markets? How long-term poverty impacts child development? What’s the relationship between graduation probabilities and student indebtedness? The relationship between child obesity and self-esteem? How might early school adjustment predict high school dropout? Are there short-term or long-term effects of early parental employment on children? All of this and much more can be mined through the data from the NLSY79 and NLSY97.
Although a primary focus of the NLSY79 survey is labor-force behavior, the survey includes detailed questions on a variety of other topics, such as educational attainment, training investments, income and assets, health conditions, workplace injuries, insurance, alcohol and substance abuse, sexual activity and marital and fertility histories.
The NLSY97 documents the transition from school to work and from adolescence to adulthood; youths' labor market behavior and educational experiences over time. In addition, the NLSY97 contains detailed information on many other topics including youths' relationships with parents, contact with absent parents, marital and fertility histories, dating, sexual activity, participation in government assistance programs, alcohol and drug use and much more.
What is the significance of the data collected?
According to Olsen, who retired in July after 28 years as director of CHRR, one of the striking lessons of the NLSY79 was how important early adolescent experiences are in shaping a person’s life.
“The NLSY79 and its companion, the NLSY79 Child and Young Adult survey — made up of more than 11,000 children born to women who participate in the NLSY79 — give researchers the rare ability to see how individual and family characteristics in mothers affect the well-being of their children through time.”
For Cooksey, a sociologist and PI of the Child and Young Adult surveys, the ability to compare linkages between generations is an invaluable and powerful tool.
“Because the NLSY79 Young Adults are asked many of the same questions that their mothers were asked when they were the same ages, this adds a whole new dimension for intergenerational research. People like Ohio State Sociologist Emeritus Frank Mott had tremendous foresight to think about such possibilities 30 years ago when the Child Survey was conceived. Mothers can’t rewrite their own histories looking back through moderated lenses because we know what they were thinking and doing back then.”
And the data are free.
“CHRR makes data available to the whole world,” said Cooksey. “You only need to go online and you can download any of our publically released variables through the CHRR designed ‘investigator.’"
Over the past 50 years, more than 8,700 books, articles, dissertations, working papers or other creative works have used the NLS data. 
“Economists, geographers, medical professionals, sociologists, psychologists, public health professionals, family scholars, education professionals and policy makers from around the world have relied upon the work done by CHRR in designing the NLS surveys,” Olsen said.
The principal investigators on the contract are Olsen, Cooksey and Audrey Light, professor of economics.