The NLSY79 Cohort is a longitudinal project that follows the lives of a sample of American youth born between 1957-64. The cohort originally included 12,686 respondents ages 14-22 when first interviewed in 1979; after two subsamples were dropped, 9,964 respondents remain in the eligible samples.

The original sample contained 6,403 (50%) males and 6,283 (50%) females, and contained the following racial composition: non-black/non-Hispanic: 7,510; black: 3,174, Hispanic or Latino: 2,002. NLSY79 also contains three sub-samples (non-institutionalized civilians; civilian Hispanic or Latino, black, and economically disadvantaged nonblack/non-Hispanic respondents; and people in military service.

NLSY79 includes variables on: labor market behavior, educational experiences (high school, college, training), family background (including data collected from parent in round 1), Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB--measures knowledge and skills including reading and mathematics), high school information received from respondents' schools and from respondents' school transcripts, government program participation, family life (marital status, fertility, and child care), health issues, and assets and income.

Researchers frequently use NLSY79 in conjunction with related surveys such as NLSY97 and CNLSY when studying lifecycle outcomes, but also use it with smaller, more targeted surveys, to study an even larger range of research questions.