In conducting research, sociologists draw upon data from a variety of sources on different subjects: economy, finance, demography, health, education, crime, culture, environment, agriculture, etc. This data is gathered and made available by governments, social science scholars, and students from various disciplines. When the data are available electronically for analysis, they are typically called "data sets."
Many sociological research studies do not require the gathering of original data for analysis -- especially since there are so many agencies and researchers gathering, publishing, or otherwise distributing data all the time. Sociologists may explore, analyze, and illuminate this data in new ways for different purposes. Below are a few of the many options for accessing data, depending on the topic you are studying.
- U.S. Census Bureau: The United States Census Bureau is the government agency that is responsible for the United States Census and serves as a leading source of data about America's people and economy. It also gathers other national and economic data, many of which is available online. The U.S. Census Bureau website includes data from the Economic Census, the American Community Survey, the 1990 Census, the 2000 Census, and current population estimates. Also available are interactive internet tools that include mapping tools and data at the national, state, county, and city level.
- Bureau Of Labor Statistics: The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics is a branch of the United States Department of Labor and is the government agency that is responsible for collecting data about employment, unemployment, pay and benefits, consumer spending, work productivity, workplace injuries, employment projections, international labor comparisons, and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Data can be accessed online in a variety of formats.
- National Center For Health Statistics: The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) is a part of the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) and is responsible for collecting data from birth and death records, medical records, interview surveys, and though direct physical exams and laboratory testing in order to provide important surveillance information that helps identify and address critical health problems in the United States. Data available on the website includes Healthy People 2010 data, Injury data, National Death Index data, and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
- Data Web: Data Ferrett: TheDataWeb is a network of online data libraries based on datasets provided by several U.S. government agencies including the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Center for Disease Control. Data topics include census data, economic data, health data, income and unemployment data, population data, labor data, cancer data, crime and transportation data, family dynamics, and vital statistics data. Users need to download the DataFerret application (available from that site) in order to access and use the datasets.
- National Survey Of Families And Households: The National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) was designed to provide a broad range of information on family life to serve as a resource for research across disciplinary perspectives. A considerable amount of life-history information was collected, including: the respondent's family living arrangements in childhood, departures and returns to the parental home, and histories of marriage, cohabitation, education, fertility, and employment. The design permits the detailed description of past and current living arrangements and other characteristics and experiences, as well as the analysis of the consequences of earlier patterns on current states, marital and parenting relationships, kin contact, and economic and psychological well-being. Interviews were conducted in 1987-88, 1992-94, and 2001-2003.
- National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health: The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) is a longitudinal study of a nationally representative sample of adolescents in grades 7-12 in the United States during the 1994-95 school year. The Add Health cohort has been followed into young adulthood with four in-home interviews, the most recent in 2008, when the sample was aged 24-32. Add Health combines longitudinal survey data on respondents' social, economic, psychological and physical well-being with contextual data on the family, neighborhood, community, school, friendships, peer groups, and romantic relationships, providing unique opportunities to study how social environments and behaviors in adolescence are linked to health and achievement outcomes in young adulthood. The fourth wave of interviews expanded the collection of biological data in Add Health to understand the social, behavioral, and biological linkages in health trajectories as the Add Health cohort ages through adulthood.
Carolina Population Center. (2011). Add Health. http://www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/addhealth
Center for Demography, University of Wisconsin. (2008). National Survey of Families and Households. http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/nsfh/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/about.htm