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The LSAY becomes the Longitudinal Study of American Life

In 1985, the National Science Foundation (NSF) provided funds to plan and initiate a new national longitudinal study of public school students in grades seven and ten. After a year of pilot testing, the Longitudinal Study of American Youth (LSAY) was launched in the fall of 1987. A total of 5,945 students agreed to participate in the LSAY. During the middle school and high school years, the LSAY collected attitude information from students each fall and spring, administered science and mathematics achievement tests each fall, conducted a telephone interview with one parent of each participating student, collected background and class information from each science and mathematics teacher that served one or more LSAY students, and collected annual institutional data from the principal. The LSAY used telephone interviews and printed and online questionnaires to survey students after high school. The NSF provided more than $20 million to support the LSAY through 2011 when the participants reached 40 years of age. The NSF declined to continue its support in 2012, indicating that they did not think that the study of continued adult learning about science was worth the investment.

In September, 2014, the National Institute on Aging (a part of the National Institutes of Health) approved an award of $3.1 million to allow the continuation of annual surveys of the 5,100 students from the original 1987 LSAY sample who were alive and able to participate (grant number 1R01AG049624-01) for the next five years. The continuing annual surveys of the original LSAY participants (now approximately 42 to 46 years old) is focusing on education and employment patterns; health status, awareness, and experiences; financial status and planning (including the impact of the Great Recession); and the use of new information technologies and resources. Recognizing the changing nature of its support and the mid-life status of its participants, the study was re-named the Longitudinal Study of American Life (LSAL).

The LSAL continues to operate in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan which has a long history of supporting longitudinal studies. The LSAL seeks to understand the impact of early learning – especially in science – on mid-life and later decisions about education, health, career choice, and related life course matters. Many of the current participants in the LSAL have children who are approaching college or are already enrolled in some form of post-secondary study. At the same time, some of today’s LSAL participants have responsibilities for the health and support of their parents. The LSAL is uniquely positioned to study this sandwich generation.

From its inception, the LSAY/LSAL has been committed to sharing its data (blinded to remove personal information that could identify any individual participant) with other scholars to advance the understanding of the development of scientific literacy and its consequences for later life decisions. The breadth and richness of the data set provides opportunities for interested scholars to study many aspects of the development of Generation X. To date, secondary analysts of the LSAY/LSAL data have produced more than 40 dissertations and 200 refereed articles. We hope that this site will provide useful information for the participants in the LSAL and will assist other scholars in understanding the unique opportunities in the LSAL data set.

We reported earlier that the NSF provided funds for the launch of a new 7th grade cohort in the Longitudinal Study of American Youth in September, 2014 (NSF award 1348619). The staff of the LSAY worked diligently over the next three years to design the study and recruit a national sample of public school students comparable to the 1987 sample. The new Cohort 3 was launched in the fall of 2015 and collected student, parent, and teacher data for the 2015-6 school year. It is with regret that we report that the NSF staff declined to support the continuation of this new cohort despite very strong external reviewer assessments. We understand from the NSF staff that they no longer believe that it is possible to collect large national in-school data sets and will focus on smaller studies involving smaller numbers of schools.

The data from the 2015-6 7th grade data set have been combined with the 7th grade data from the 1987-8 and these data will be deposited in the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) for secondary analysis. We expect to have the data available by the end of calendar 2017.

Jon D. Miller
Longitudinal Study of American Youth
Institute for Social Research
University of Michigan