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After 40 Years, How Representative Are Labor Market Outcomes in the NLSY79?

In 1979, the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) began following a group of US residents born between 1957 and 1964. It has continued to re-interview these same individuals for more than four decades. Despite this long sampling period, attrition remains modest. This paper shows that after 40 years of data collection, the remaining NLYS79 sample continues to be broadly representative of their national cohorts with regard to key labor market outcomes. For NLSY79 age cohorts, life-cycle profiles of employment, hours worked, and earnings are comparable to those in the Current Population Survey. Moreover, average lifetime earnings over the age range 25 to 55 closely align with the same measure in Social Security Administration data. Our results suggest that the NLSY79 can continue to provide useful data for economists and other social scientists studying life-cycle and lifetime labor market outcomes, including earnings inequality.

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