The 500 Family Study [1998-2000: United States] (ICPSR 4549)

Principal Investigator(s): Schneider, Barbara, University of Chicago. National Opinion Research Center (NORC). Alfred P. Sloan Center on Parents, Children and Work; Waite, Linda J, University of Chicago. National Opinion Research Center (NORC). Alfred P. Sloan Center on Parents, Children and Work


The 500 Family Study was designed to obtain in-depth information on middle class, dual-career families living in the United States. To understand the complex dynamics of today's families and the strategies they use to balance the demands of work and family, over 500 families from 8 cities across the United States were studied. To address different issues facing parents with older and younger children, families with adolescents and families with kindergartners were included in the sample. Working mothers and fathers are now splitting their time between their responsibilities to their family, and to their respective occupations. This study of 500 families explores how work affects the lives and well-being of parents and their children.

The study's data allows researchers to explore a broad range of questions:

  • How do dual-career families manage and organize their resources and time between family and work?
  • How do work conditions, including characteristics of the job and workplace environment, affect the quality of relationships among household members?
  • How do dual career parents manage the moral and social development and learning experiences of their children?
  • How do the work-related responsibilities of working parents affect their child's moral, social, and educational development?
  • What effect is consumerism and technology having on how working families direct the moral and social development of their children?
  • What do parents believe is their role regarding the child-care of their children and how they should fulfill that role both in terms of time and in the allocation of economic and social resources? What are some of the resources in the community that parents use to supervise their children?
  • How do families regard the "free time" of adolescents and how they allocate adolescent "free time" in maintenance of the household?
  • What is the quality of relationships among family members?

To obtain a detailed picture of work and family life, mothers, fathers, and their children were asked to complete a series of instruments including surveys, in-depth interviews, and time diaries. These instruments were designed to provide information about work, marriage, child care and parental supervision, management of household tasks, time allocations, coping strategies, and psychological well-being.

The four datasets associated with this data collection are summarized below:

  1. The Cortisol Data contains information for a subsample of families that elected to participate in a study of psychological stress. Parents and teenagers who agreed to participate completed an additional two days of ESM data collection. The health survey that was administered reported on a variety of health and lifestyle issues that might affect cortisol (stress hormone) levels such as medication use, consumption of caffeine and alcohol, use of nicotine, timing of menstrual cycle, pregnancy, presence of chronic illness, and respondent's height and weight. Additionally, parents reported on the health of the children (teenagers and kindergartners) participating in the study.
  2. The Experience Sampling Method (ESM) Data contains a variety of information related to how individuals spend their time, who they spent it with, and what activities they were engaged in over the course of a typical week. Respondents wore programmed wrist watches that emitted signals (beeps) throughout the day. When possible, family members were placed on identical signaling schedules to provide information on a range of family activities. At the time of each beep, participants were asked to complete a self-report form which asked them to answer a number of open-ended questions about their location, activities, who they were with, and psychological states. Several Likert and semantic-differential scales were used to assess participants' psychological states.
  3. The Parent Data contains basic demographic information from respondents as well as detailed information about parents' occupation job duties, income, work schedule, benefits (e.g., medical care, flexible work schedules, and family leave), and the consequences of their jobs (e.g. long hours, job stress, having to work weekends). Additionally, the data contain information about the extent to which parents experienced work-family conflict and what changes might help with better balance of the demands of work and family (e.g., more flexible work hours, more help from spouses with household and child care responsibilities, improved child care, and after-school care arrangements). Parental attitudes toward traditional arrangements, how household tasks were actually divided among family members, and how often the family paid for services (e.g., cleaning, yard work, meal preparation) were also captured. The data also contain information about how children are socialized in families with two working parents. Topics about the frequency with which parents engaged in various activities with their children (e.g., talking, eating meals together, attending religious services), how frequently parents monitored their teenager's activities, and how often they talked with their teenager about school activities, plans for college, career plans, friendships, and peer pressure.
  4. The Adolescent Data contains data for sixth through twelfth graders, which focuses on family relationships and experiences, school experiences, paid work, psychological well-being and behavioral problems, and plans for the future (e.g., college, career, and marriage -- including expectations regarding spouses' sharing of responsibility for child care, cooking, chores, and paid work). To allow for comparison of parents' and adolescents' responses to similar questions, several items appear in both the adolescent and parent data. These items include the frequency with which parents and adolescents discuss school events, college and career plans, participation in religious and other activities, gender role attitudes and the division of household tasks within the family, and items measuring depression, stress, and anxiety.

Qualitative Data -- Interviews The main purpose of the interviews was to explore topics addressed in the parent and adolescent surveys in greater detail. Parent interviews were designed to examine how working parents cope with the demands of work and family life. Adolescent interviews touched on similar themes but altered questions to gauge the adolescent's perceptions of their parents work and family lives. Kindergartner interviews were brief and focused on children's after-school and child care arrangements and time spent with parents.


DS0:  Study-Level Files
DS1:  Cortisol Data
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DS2:  Experience Sampling Method (ESM) Data
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DS3:  Parent Data
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DS4:  Student Data
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DS5:  Qualitative Interview Data

Instructional Resources

Instructional guides that utilize this dataset are available: