National Study of the Changing Workforce

The State of the U.S. Workforce

There’s only one place to get the most comprehensive and far-reaching view at our nation’s workforce and workplace. A view that informs businesses, politicians, academics and all those who have an impact on the place our citizens go for their livelihoods, fulfillment and to help keep the United States running.

The National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW) is the major study of the U.S. workforce that takes a comprehensive look at employees’ lives both on and off the job. Conducted every five to six years by Families and Work Institute, the NSCW is the only ongoing, nationally representative survey of a large sample of U.S. workers and has tracked emerging trends essential to attracting, engaging and retaining top talent for more than three decades. In 2016, FWI will release the latest iteration of the NSCW.

The NSCW is a vital and irreplaceable resource for the business community, academia, the media and the general public because it:

  • Unearths emerging issues, tracks trends and provides insight that leads to action. Families and Work Institute is always being commended for being ahead of the curve, and it is the NSCW that enables us to be so. The NSCW provides unique opportunities to identify workforce issues as they emerge and to track trends over time, whether the ambitions of young workers or aspects of work that motivate or dissatisfy employees. NSCW findings track demographic trends in the workforce, and the characteristics of their work environments that most engage them. Most importantly, the NSCW enables decision makers to take well-informed action, based on the most robust data available.
  • Is representative of all. Unlike most other research on the workforce, the NSCW is based on a large sample and provides definitive information about all populations of the U.S. workforce, including employees, small business owners and contingent workers.
  • Asks the right questions. The NSCW has its finger on the pulse of the American workforce and covers a broad array of subjects germane to employees’ experiences and attitudes. With more than 600 data points, the NSCW prides itself on being able to answer almost every question that is asked of it.
  • Provides useful data for traditional and online news media, books and academic publications. NSCW findings have been headline news in such media as USA Today, NBC, ABC, CBS, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and others. Our research is featured in the news on an average of two to three times a day. For example, we have conducted recent custom analyses for Steve Greenhouse of The New York Times and Sue Shellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal, who calls this study “invaluable!”


Beginning in 1969, the U.S. Department of Labor funded three studies of the nation’s workforce as part of the Quality of Employment Survey (QES). The last survey in this series, conducted in 1977, marked the first time that research on a large representative sample of U.S. workers collected information about not only the work lives of employees, but their personal lives as well. When the QES program was halted for a variety of reasons in 1977, a 15-year gap ensued during which there were numerous small-scale studies of life on and off the job, but no large-scale studies of nationally representative samples.

Families and Work Institute (FWI) stepped into this breach in the early 1990s by obtaining business support for the National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW) as an ongoing research program of the Institute. FWI’s program is more explicit and comprehensive than the QES in addressing issues related to both work and personal life. It also reflects a strong business perspective in addition to the broad social and public policy perspectives that shaped the QES. It is crafted to address timely questions about the changing workforce that are of high practical importance to decision makers. In fact, all of the original funders of the 1992 NSCW suggested questions for the study that were of major business concern.

The primary goals of our research have been not only to identify emerging issues and to track trends in the changing workforce, but also to provide actionable information to the business community by determining what employers can do to make work “work” more effectively. In particular, we look for actions that can benefit both employers and employees. For example, we have used research to identify the ingredients of an effective workplace and have found them to include job autonomy, learning opportunities, input into management decision making, supervisor and coworker support for job success, economic security and work-life fit. The NSCW reveals that employees in more effective workplaces are more engaged in and satisfied with their jobs, less likely to plan to leave their employers, and in better physical and mental health.

The NSCW was initially conducted in 1992, then again in 1997, 2002 and 2008; and the 2014-15 cycle is currently underway. The total sample for 2008 was 3,502 people (53% men, 47% women), including wage and salaried employees who work for someone else, independent self-employed workers who do not employ anyone else, and small business owners who do employ others. Applying the conservative method of calculation recommended by the American Association for Public Opinion Research, the response rate for the 2008 NSCW was 54.6%. The estimated maximum sampling error for the total wage and salaried sample is approximately +/- 1%.

As with all of our research, there are practical applications for our findings. We have used these findings to frame the When Work Works Award (formerly known as the Sloan Award) which is now central to When Work Works—a partnership between the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and FWI that will be implemented in all 50 states by the end of 2014. Findings from the NSCW help business leaders anticipate and prepare for changes in their workforce, understand the needs and experiences of diverse groups of employees, and enhance workplace effectiveness in their organizations.

2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce: Select Reports

time_work_flexTimes Are Changing: Gender and Generation at Home

Time and Workplace Flexibility

The New Male Mystique

The State of Health in the American Workforce

Working in Retirement: A 21st Century Phenomenon

Workplace Flexibility in the United States: A Status Report

Workplace Flexibility in Manufacturing Companies

Workplace Flexibility in the Hospitality, Restaurant and Tourism Industry

Workplace Flexibility in the Health Services Industry

Workplace Flexibility Among Small Employers

Retail Industry Employees and Turnover



Related Resources:

  • Public-Use Files available for purchase. To purchase any of these products, contact our publications department at
    • 2002 NSCW Public-use Data Files, Includes 1997 & 1992 Full data and Comparison Files. Special price of $300.00 for Individual Use. (Item #W2004)
    • 2002 NSCW Public-use Data Files, Includes 1997 & 1992 Full data and Comparison Files. Special Price of $550.00 (Item #W2004Org)
    • 2008 NSCW Public Use Data Files, Institutional Copy, includes Comparison data from 2002, 1997 & 1992, Special Price of $550.00 (Item #W2008Org)
    • 2008 NSCW Public-Use Data Files, includes Comparison data from 2002, 1997 & 1992 Special price of $300.00 for Individual Use. (Item #W2008)
  • National Study of the Changing Workforce Public-Use Guide (Text file download)




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