About the Data

Project Talent’s unique combination of cognitive, social, psychological, and health measures, family and school information, and its large and nationally representative sample is unmatched in the United States. The rigorous, state-of-the-art design of the original 1960 study compares well with current standards for large-sale nationally representative data collections, allowing comparisons between datasets and unlimited possibilities for the investigation of a diverse range of subjects with respect to race, gender, socioeconomic status, education level and more, and the study of special populations such as twins and veterans.

Since 2009, significant efforts have been made to modernize the data, which was originally collated on punch-cards and later transferred to nine-track tapes. Working with the National Archive of Computerized Data on Aging (NACDA) researchers developed documentation and tools to facilitate analysis and make the data easily accessible to licensed researchers (R01 AG038587 PI Lapham). In 2012, in conjunction with the University of Michigan and the Health and Retirement Study (P30 AG012846-17S1, U01 AG009740-21S2), AIR conducted a pilot study of approximately 5,000 participants; 85% of those were successfully located and 75% responded to the survey, proving that original participants are willing and eager to continue their relationship with Project Talent.

Who was tested?

Roughly five percent of all students in grades nine through 12 in 1960 became part of Project Talent. Properly weighted, the Project Talent probability sample of 377,000 participants is representative of all enrolled 9th- through 12th-graders in the United States in 1960. Public, private, and parochial schools from inner cities, suburbs, and rural districts and from all economic and social strata were selected for participation; a sampling frame was generated with information supplied by the United States Office of Education, the Internal Revenue Service, and other national databases. Except for New York City and Chicago schools (which were sampled at a lower rate), every student in grades nine through 12 in a participating school took part in Project Talent. All 9th-graders in junior high schools associated with participating high schools were also tested.

What was tested?

In 1960, Project Talent participants were administered an extensive battery of tests that assessed their mathematical competency, language ability and aptitude, clerical and perceptual aptitude, and complex intellectual aptitude (which included creativity and mechanical and abstract reasoning). A general information test assessed students’ general knowledge of thirty subjects and was used to identify students who were mentally disabled, illiterate, or took the test apathetically. Three additional questionnaires collected information about family background, educational and vocational interests and aspirations, personal and educational experiences, health, and extracurricular activities and assessed personality traits such as impulsiveness, conscientiousness, and leadership capability. An extensive school questionnaire was completed by principals, capturing such information as class size, per pupil spending, courses offered, and access to guidance counseling.

At one, five, and 11 years after projected high school graduation, each participant received a mail survey which collected information on postsecondary education, labor force participation and plans, family formation, military service, health behaviors, and life satisfaction. Response rates for the one-year follow-up were generally high, while the five- and 11-year follow-ups experienced further attrition.

Current and Planned Studies