The National Data Program for the Social Sciences

The National Data Program for the Social Sciences

The National Data Program for the Social Sciences has been conducted since 1972 by NORC, A Social Science Research Center at the University of Chicago, with the support of the National Science Foundation. This program has had two main goals:


  • To conduct basic scientific research on the structure and development of American society.
  • To distribute up-to-date, important, high-quality data to social scientists, students, policy makers, and others.


This research is carried out by a data collection program designed to both monitor social change within the United States and to compare the United States to other nations.


Data on social change in the United States is collected as part of the General Social Survey (GSS). The GSS has been conducted almost annually since 1972. It is the only full-probability, personal-interview survey designed to monitor changes in both social characteristics and attitudes currently being conducted in the United States. Hundreds of trends have been tracked since 1972. In addition, since the GSS adopted questions from earlier surveys, trends can be followed for up to 70 years.


Among the topics covered are civil liberties, crime and violence, intergroup tolerance, morality, national spending priorities, psychological well-being, social mobility, and stress and traumatic events. Altogether the GSS is the single best source for sociological and attitudinal trend data covering the United States.


Cross-national data are collected as part of the International Social Survey Program (ISSP). ISSP was established in 1984 by NORC and other social science institutes in the United States, Australia, Great Britain, and West Germany. The ISSP collaboration has now grown to include 57 nations (the founding four plus Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Korea (South), Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palestine, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Venezuela). The ISSP is the largest program of cross-national research in the social sciences. For more information on the ISSP, visit its Web site:


The annual ISSP modules have covered the following topics:

1985: The Role of Government
1986: Social Support and Social Networks
1987: Social Inequality
1988: The Impact on the Family of the Increase Labor Force Participation of Women
1989: Work and Leisure

1990: The Role of Government II
1991: The Influence of Religious Upbringing, Beliefs, and Behaviors on Socio-Political  Preferences
1992: Social Inequality II
1993-94: The Environment
1994: Women, Work, and Family II
1995: National Identity
1996: Role of Government III
1997: Work Orientation II
1998: Religion II
1999: Social Inequality III

2000: The Environment II
2001: Social Support and Networks
2002: Women, Work, and Family III
2003: National Identity II
2004: Citizenship
2005: Work Orientation III
2006: Role of Government IV
2007: Free-Time Activities
2008: Religion III
2009: Social Inequality IV
2010: The Environment III

2011: Health Policy
2012: Women, Work, and Family IV

2013: National Identity III

2014: Citzenship

2015: Work Orientation IV


The GSS and ISSP data sets are distributed to interested scholars and applied researchers as soon as the surveys are processed through the major survey archives in the United States and Europe. It is widely utilized by academia, government, and the private sector:

  • Over 20,000 scholarly publications have used the GSS.
    In the social sciences only the US Census is used as a data source more frequently than the GSS.
  • Each year over 400,000 college students utilize the GSS in classes. Several innovative programs to teach sociology through hands-on analysis of real data have been developed around the GSS.
  • Governmental users include the Library of Congress, the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Education, and Justice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the White House.
  • Corporate users include AT&T, General Electric, Hallmark, IBM, Procter and Gamble, Prudential Insurance, and Sears.
  • Newspapers, magazines, and broadcast media in North America, Asia, and Europe frequently cite the GSS.


In addition on its programs of basic research and data distribution, the program has carried out an extensive range of methodological research designed both to advance survey methods in general and to insure that the GSS data are of the highest possible quality. In pursuit of this goal over 119 papers have been published in the GSS Methodological Report series.


The GSS and its PIs have been received awards from the American Association for Public Opinion Research, the American Sociological Association, the Eastern Sociological Society, the World Association for Public Opinion Research, and American Demographics and Science magazines.


The National Data Program for the Social Sciences is directed by Tom W. Smith(NORC/University of Chicago), Peter V. Marsden (Harvard University), and Michael Hout (UC-Berkeley). It is advised by a Board of Overseers consisting of prominent social scientists.



The National Data Program for the Sciences  NORC