At A Glance

Noteworthy Characteristics

  • Includes individual parent and child interview data.
  • Includes information on participation in sports groups, parental participation in youth sports or athletic clubs.
  • Includes information on television-watching habits of children
  • Detailed longitudinal information on broad range of data on family life, which may be used to assess mediating variables related to childhood obesity, diet, physical activity, and sleep.



To collect data on family formation, marriage, cohabitation, fertility, parenting relations, kin contact, and economic and psychological well-being of the population in the United States (U.S.).

Target Population

Individuals and households in the 48 contiguous states of the U.S.


Began in 1987. Conducted in three Waves (Wave 1: 1987-1988; Wave 2: 1992-1994; Wave 3: 2001-2003). Most recent year conducted was 2003.


Wave 1: Center for Population Research, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01 HD21009); Waves 2 and 3: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01 HD21009) and National Institute on Aging (R01 AG10266). Both Institutes are components of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Special Note(s)

Project ended in 2006.


Sample Design

Longitudinal/panel survey.

Multistage probability sampling with several retrospective sequences of a nationally representative sample. Oversampling of Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, single-parent families, families with stepchildren, cohabiting couples, and recently married persons. Learn more.

Sample Size

Wave 1: 13,017 main respondents (only adults interviewed)
Wave 2: 10,005 main respondents, 5,624 spouses, 789 ex-spouse, 802 proxy, 3,347 parents of main respondents, 1,417 focal children (i.e., child interviewed or subject of data collection) (ages 10 to 17 years) and focal child (ages 18 to 23 years)
Wave 3: 4,600 main respondents, 2,677 spouses/partners, 1,952 focal children (ages 18 to 34 years) and 924 proxy interviews

Special Note(s)

Due to budgetary constraints, only a sub-sample of the original wave 1 sample was selected for interviewing at wave 3. This sub-sample included parents of young adult children, and mid-to-later life adults. 4,600 wave 1 respondents were interviewed as part of wave 3.

Key Variables


NameMethods of Assessment
Disability (cognitive; emotional; general; hearing; movement/physical; vision)Interview/questionnaire
Education and educational historyInterview/questionnaire
Employment and employment historyInterview/questionnaire
Family structureInterview/questionnaire
Histories of marriage and cohabitationInterview/questionnaire
Household size and number of childrenInterview/questionnaire
Income (includes child support and public assistance) and socioeconomic statusInterview/questionnaire
Marital status (includes cohabitation)Interview/questionnaire


NameMethods of Assessment
Social sleep environment: Sleep location (e.g., living room)Interview/Questionnaire
Social sleep environment: Sleep location (e.g., living room)Interview/Questionnaire
Sleep disturbances and quality: Other (list variable)Interview/Questionnaire
Sleep timing and regularity: Regularity of bedtimeInterview/Questionnaire
Sleep timing and regularity: Sleep timing on workdays/schooldaysInterview/Questionnaire
Sleep timing and regularity: Time to bedInterview/Questionnaire


NameMethods of Assessment
Height (child)Self-report
Weight (child)Self-report


NameMethods of Assessment
State, zip code, state Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS), county FIPS, place FIPS, minor civil division (MCD) FIPS, metropolitan statistical area (MSA) FIPS, 1990 census tract, 1990 census block, 1990 census labor marketN/A


NameMethods of Assessment
Disability and chronic illness of children and adults in householdInterview/questionnaire
Frequency of drivingInterview/questionnaire
Participation in sports groupsInterview/questionnaire
Self-rated healthInterview/questionnaire
Self-rated well beingInterview/questionnaire
TV-watching habits of childInterview/questionnaire

Data Access and Cost

Data Availability

Obtain public-use data through the Codebooks and Data Access link by waves.
Data also can be obtained by registering and submitting a data use agreement at the Better Access to Data for Global Interdisciplinary Research (BADGIR) online archive. Also obtain NSFH data for free through the Data and Information Services Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Free of charge.

Special Note(s)

BADGIR registered users can browse or search data documentation and univariate summary statistics, create cross-tabulations, perform regression analyses, and create and download customized data sets that can be imported into a variety of statistical packages for use in sophisticated multivariate analyses.

Three waves of NSFH document and data files have been archived at the NSFH project website, with support from NIA grant (AG R03 AG045503). The Center for Demography of Health and Aging (P30 AG017266) at University of Wisconsin-Madison has maintained the NSFH project website and provided user support to NSFH researchers since 2006, when NSFH project ended.


Geocode Variable(s)

NSFH geo files are restricted. The geographic units for wave 1 and wave 2 are state, zip code, state Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS), county FIPS, place FIPS, minor civil division (MCD) FIPS, metropolitan statistical area (MSA) FIPS, 1990 census tract, and 1990 census block. Wave 3 geographic units are state, state FIPS, county FIPS, 2000 census tract FIPS, 2000 block group FIPS, ZIP code and ZIP + 4 code, and Core Based Statistical Area.

Existing Linkages

Learn more at NSFH User Support.

Special Note(s)

Researchers, who need to combine geographical characteristics with NSFH data in their projects can contact CDHA and request our NSFH geographic merge service. This service adds researchers’ geographical contextual data, such as unemployment rate in census tracts to NSFH respondents. To start a geo-merge request, a researcher is required to obtain an approval from his/her Institutional Review Boards (IRB) and prepares a data protection plan for his/her geo-merged NSFH data in a mandatory confidentiality agreement.

Selected Publications

A list of publications based on NSFH data is available at the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) Related Literature database.

Sweet J, Bumpass L, Call V. The design and content of the National Survey of Families and Households. Madison (WI): Center for Demography and Ecology, University of Wisconsin, 1988. NSFH Working Paper No. 1.



Introductory Files :