GSS Frequently Asked Questions

The GSS Data Explorer makes it easier than ever to teach research methods, program evaluation, statistics, or other courses using GSS data. With GSS DE, a professor can create a project, prepopulate the project with variables, and share the project with the entire class. The ability to review and comment on activities in a shared project provides an interactive way for professors to engage with and monitor student work. To learn more about how to set up GSS DE in your classroom, visit this quick, step-by-step guide.

To learn more about how to use the Key Trends feature, visit the Quick Start Guide. To learn more about the methodology used to develop the visualizations, click here.

See our citation guidelines here.

Yes. The brief variable labels you will find on this site give only a general guide to variable content. The codebook provides the exact wording of questions in the survey, as well as all possible responses for each question and the codes assigned to them. The codebook also provides full documentation of other methodological features of the GSS that users must understand. You'll find the codebook in our Help and Resources section.

The GSS Data Explorer includes the default weight WTSSALL, and allows you to select different weights when you create your analyses and extracts. If you are using GSS data in your own statistical software program, you must decide for yourself whether and how to use weights but in general you should use WTSSALL. Here are some additional considerations for weighting GSS data:

  • The 1982 and 1987 GSSs included oversamples of black respondents. To adjust statistical results for this oversampling, one may either exclude cases in the black oversamples (codes 4, 5, and 7 on variable SAMPLE) or weight statistical results using weights in variable OVERSAMP.
  • From 1975 to 2002 the GSS used full-probability sampling of households designed to give each household an equal probability of being included in the GSS. Hence, for household-level variables the GSS is self-weighting.
  • Only one adult per household is interviewed, however, so persons living in large households have lower probabilities of selection. For person-level variables, weighting statistical results in proportion to the number of persons aged 18 or over in the household (variable ADULTS) can compensate for this.
  • Beginning in 2004, the GSS began to use a two-stage sub-sampling design for nonresponse. Cases from which no response has been obtained after the initial stage of the field period are subsampled and resources are focused on gaining cooperation from this subset. Responses from persons in the subsample must subsequently be weighted up in order to represent all of those who had not responded by the time the subsample was drawn. Analysis of data from the 2004 and later GSSs should use weights WTSSALL, WTSS, or WTSSNR.

For additional detail about weights in the GSS, see Appendix A: Sampling Design & Weighting.

Not necessarily. Response options can change over time, with available response options being added to, or taken away from the survey questionnaire. For this reason, a user should verify the response options in one year, and compare the same variable across the other years you wish to analyze. This will enable you to assess whether “Not Applicable”, “Don’t Know”, or other response options are applicable to the analysis you plan to create.

Survey questions in the “GSS replicating core” are regularly administered as part of each GSS. Core items include background information about respondents (for example: age [AGE], sex [SEX], education [EDUC], region of residence [REGION]) and measures of attitudes (such as views about gender roles [e.g. FEHOME], confidence in institutions [e.g. CONFINAN] or gun control [GUNLAW]) or behaviors (such as attendance at religious services [ATTEND] or voting in the most recent U.S. Presidential election [VOTE68 through VOTE04]). Items are very occasionally added to or removed from the GSS core. An especially notable number of items were removed from the core after 1994. To see how regularly any particular GSS item is measured, consult codebook Appendix U: Variable Use by Year/Ballot.

In addition to the core questions about work status and occupation, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and NORC’s General Social Survey developed a module assessing the quality of work life in America, starting with the 2002 GSS survey. This module has been replicated with every other GSS (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014), and is only asked to those who are currently working. For more information, visit the NIOSH Quality of Worklife page on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Until 2000, the GSS measured race mostly by interviewer observation (variableRACE), using categories of white, black, and other. If in doubt about how to code a respondent’s race, interviewers asked the respondent “what race do you consider yourself?” Beginning in 2002, the GSS measured race following the procedures used in the decennial Census, asking all respondents for a racial self-identification and recording up to three mentions. These data are in variables RACECEN1, RACECEN2, and RACECEN3 (The same questions also were asked as part of the “Multi-Ethnic United States” topical module administered to one of the two samples in the 2000 GSS).

The public use files available on this site and in other archives do not include any geocoded data. However, GSS geographic identification code files are made available to researchers under special contract with NORC. The GSS takes its promise of anonymity to its respondents very seriously and this is the basis for the contract process. Under contract, the GSS will provide data on state, primary sampling unit, county, and Census tract, but in no circumstances will individually identifying information (name, address, etc.) be provided. Contact us for information about obtaining geocoded files, or view the document: Obtaining GSS Sensitive Data Files.

The GSS Data Explorer includes Quick Start Guides to help you get the most out of the tool. It also has information about the GSS, including the online codebook, the codebook appendices, and published GSS reports. You can access these in our Help and Resources section.

Yes – please complete the online contact form in our Help and Resources section, and we’ll do our best to help. Note that if you are experiencing technical issues, first check that you are using a modern browser such as Chrome or Firefox, or version 9 or higher of Internet Explorer. Earlier versions of Internet Explorer or other older browsers are not supported.

For general information about the GSS, including how we design the questionnaires, create samples, and interview respondents, visit our main GSS site for general FAQs about the GSS.