At A Glance

Noteworthy Characteristics

  • Provides data relevant to food security in families with children.
  • Specifically focuses on low-income households.
  • Detailed information about income and income sources for low-income families with children.
  • Detailed information about various types of food assistance.
  • 1997 data have been benchmarked to the Current Population Survey (CPS).



To collect data on demographic, economic, housing and other factors relevant to the well-being of children and adults younger than age 65 years residing in households in the United States (U.S.).

Target Population

Noninstitutionalized, civilian population younger than age 65 years in the U.S. The survey focuses on individuals residing in households with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold. Thirteen states studied in depth include: Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.


Began in 1997. Conducted in 1997, 1999, and 2002. Final year conducted was 2002.


Annie E. Casey Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation, David & Lucile Packard Foundation. The study is conducted by the Urban Institute.

Special Note(s)

NSAF is a household survey that can be used to produce cross-sectional estimates for a wide variety of child, adult, and family well-being indicators at the state level for 13 states and the Nation as a whole.

NSAF is part of the Urban Institute's Assessing the New Federalism (ANF) multi-year research project. The project’s purpose is to track the effects of recent federal policy changes decentralizing many social programs from the federal government to the states, focusing primarily on health care, income security, job training, and social services. In collaboration with Child Trends, researchers from the Urban Institute monitor program changes and fiscal developments, along with changes in the well-being of children and families.


Sample Design

Cross-sectional, nationally representative, random sample. Oversampling was performed for households with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and households with children. Oversampling also was performed for households in 13 states (Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin) to allow for the production of reliable estimates at the state level.

A dual-frame sampling approach was used to separately sample households with and without telephones, with probability sampling of nontelephone households (includes households with wireless telephones only).

Learn more about the sampling design.

Sample Size

Approximately 43,800 adults were interviewed in 2002 (yielding information on more than 100,000 children and adults). Interviews were completed for approximately 28,500 children sampled in 2002.

Special Note(s)

After selecting households, children younger than age 18 years were sampled from the selected households for the child sample. If a sampled household had only one child, then that child always was selected. In households with more than one child younger than age 18, either one child or two children were selected.

The interviewer asked the adult respondent about each sample child. The respondent most often was the mother or father of the child, but people with other relationships to the child also were interviewed if they were the person with the most knowledge about a sample child.

Key Variables


NameMethods of Assessment
Age of all household membersInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Child supportInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Child’s gradeInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Disability (general)Interview/questionnaire
Education level of respondent, partner, and children in household older than age 14 yearsInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Employment and earnings for respondent and partnerInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Family income as percent of federal poverty thresholdInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Family income from non-employment sources (e.g., Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)Interview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Health insurance status and typeInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Housing adequacy (e.g., crowding, stability)Interview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Immigration status and country of originInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Other forms of public assistance (e.g., child care subsidies, housing assistance)Interview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Race/ethnicityInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Relationships within householdInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Sex of all household membersInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)


NameMethods of Assessment
Use of childcareInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Food security, including effects of economic hardship on the family’s food consumption and ability to pay for housingInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Receipt of food assistance, including free or reduced-price school lunch and breakfastInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)

Physical Activity-Related

NameMethods of Assessment
Child’s participation in recreational activitiesInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)


NameMethods of Assessment
Social sleep environment: Sleep location (e.g., living room)Interview/Questionnaire
Sleep disturbances and quality: OtherInterview/Questionnaire


NameMethods of Assessment

Data Access and Cost

Data Availability

Analyze data at the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) website, located at the University of Michigan. Users must create a password-protected account.


Free of charge.


Geocode Variable(s)


Existing Linkages

The 1997 National Survey of American Family (NSAF) data on individuals have been benchmarked to Current Population Survey (CPS) data on public assistance using household, family, and person identifiers as well as state of residence. Learn more.

Special Note(s)

The 1997 NSAF-CPS linkage produced a public use file containing records for 47,171 sampled families. This file can be linked to other public use files to create a hierarchical structure in which each individual’s record is associated with those of the others in the same family or household. The unlinked 1997 NSAF Public Use Files provided minimal information about the amount of financial assistance families received from various social services. The merged CPS family file and NSAF file provide more detailed information about sources of child care assistance, the degree of welfare assistance the family may have received, and the frequencies of several other social service-related variables.

Selected Publications

Click here for a full list of publications.


Giannarelli L, Barsimantov J. Child care expenses of America’s families. Washington (DC): Urban Institute, 2000.


Garasky S, Stewart SD. Evidence of the effectiveness of child support and visitation: Examining food insecurity among children with nonresident fathers. Journal of Family and Economic Issues; 28(1):105-121.

Ma CT, Gee L, Kushel MB. Associations between housing instability and food insecurity with health care access in low-income children. Ambulatory Pediatrics 2008;8(1):50-57.


Beebout HS. Nutrition, food security, and obesity. Gender Issues;23(3):54-64.


Kenney G, Zuckerman S, Rajan S, Brennan N, Holahan J. The National Survey of America's Families: An overview of the health policy component. Inquiry 1999;36(3):353-362.


Data Query System

Permits both simple and complex analyses online, including recoding and computation of new variables and subset variables or cases for downloading.

2002 Survey
1999 Survey
1997 Survey


2002 Survey
1999 Survey
1997 Survey