Data sources

by Eszter Hargittai on August 16, 2006

Behind the hustle and bustle of the book exhibit at the recent annual meetings of the American Sociological Association was an exhibit of various data sources. That area of the room is usually very quiet. As a break from everything else, I decided to take a little tour. The posters and flyers are actually quite informative despite being abandoned and looking somewhat pathetic from afar. It seems to me that this is an underappreciated part of the meetings and could be especially helpful for graduate students. Of course, it should hold value to many others as well.

In addition to data sources, there are pointers to various tools and also reports that may be of interest. Much of the material on these Web sites is presented in a way that it should be accessible and interesting to many non-specialists, too. The teaching potential of some of these sources is considerable as well.

Below the fold I list some of the resources I saw.

  • Wisconsin Longitudinal Study – “[..] a long-term study of a random sample of 10,317 men and women who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957.” In the interest of full disclosure, I have a pilot grant from this project and have been working with the data set for the past few months. It’s an amazing resource. I should post about it in more detail one of these days.
  • Social Explorer – “Social Explorer is dedicated to providing demographic information in an easily understood format: data maps.” – This resource in particular may be especially helpful for teaching purposes.
  • WebCASPAR – “[..] provides easy access to a large body of statistical data resources for science and engineering (S&E) at U.S. academic institutions. WebCASPAR emphasizes S&E, but its data resources also provide information on non-S&E fields and higher education in general.”
  • National Science Board Science and Engineering Indicators 2006 – “[..] a volume of record comprising the major high quality quantitative data on the U.S. and international science and engineering enterprise.”
  • Archival Research Catalog – “The Archival Research Catalog (ARC) is the online catalog of NARA’s [NARA = National Archives and Records Administration] nationwide holdings in the Washington, DC area, Regional Archives and Presidential Libraries.” The ARC Guide for Educators and Students is a good place to start.
  • The American Time Use Survey – “measures the amount of time people spend doing various activities, such as paid work, childcare, volunteering, commuting, and socializing.”

Tremendous amounts of high quality existing resources are available to researchers. Depending on one’s research questions, it’s worth remembering that it may not be necessary to start from scratch.



JohnLopresti 08.16.06 at 4:28 pm

Looking away from the gaps in datagathering both in a time sense and in a societal contextual sense, the WLS’57 should be a useful tool if complemented with other instruments and if applied narrowly to illuminate the most central topics in which it is interested. It appeared to me that it looked at social safety nets but shunned the non-nuclear family; and, though it acknowledges unconventional living arrangements, at least as far as the printed questions extend, it skips looking at matters such as trial marriages, though the ’57 generation was a smidgeon early for much of the social change that occurred in the substrate civilization over the years the study spans. Effectively the entire study concluded before the internet existed, which is another drawback; and no interviews were conducted during the go-go years of the late 90s when entrepreneurial spirit and affluence seemed to abound in our nation and other parts of the first world; though emphasizing highschool graduation as it does, the project obviously is looking at potential material for recruitment to the university rather than other kinds of educational experience, though there may be sorts to extract data on a set of individuals such as grad school attendees and research assistants in post grad settings. Virtually all of the males arrived at adulthood in the conscriptive military obligation world, yet were gap dwellers in the sense their peers missed wartime involvement; too young for Korea, and by the time the US was defoliating the Mekong in 1968 the study group males were too old for the wholesale draft of the late 1960s; I expect many of them helped the war in southeast Asia escalate in its early years. I appreciated the self consciousness the study exhibited in defining its sample population’s race and ancestry. It would be wonderful if the interview reports are ample, extending beyond the radio-button checkbox profile the website shows. Since so much occurred in the US at the time these folks were leaving high school I would wonder what kinds of cars they drove; whether they thought becoming a poet was a realistic aspiration; how closely their parents kept informed about their whereabouts and goings-on; and whether they opted for college in one of the coastal meccas where scions of the effete literati attended university. There are so many excellent liberal arts colleges in middle America, there might have been little incentive for most in the group to venture to coastlands, but deep changes in society were occurring when they were in their twenties, trends which were very prominently observable in progressive coastal urban areas, which were fairly nascent or pregerminal in middle America then. I want to look at the pilot link you provided, as well. UW has a rich history in the intellectual world.


greensmile 08.17.06 at 4:19 pm

Ezter, those are interesting. being on line makes the “social explorer” very valuable. I don’t often have the sort of questions these sources answer…but on the other hand I should read them to see what sort of questions they prompt.
I lost 3 days of blogging to research terror incident data before I found the Rand data base had filters and query tools but even that took a tediuos bit of digging to get my graph.


Eszter 08.19.06 at 4:20 pm

John, the WLS follow-up data do contain some information about Internet uses, that’s what I’m working on. I may not be understanding your comment though. I’ll have to blog about the WLS in more detail sometime.

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