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Gainful Activity


Specific Information: Gainful Activity

Gainful activity is a construct that consolidates school attendance and employment information into a single monthly variable that is intended to indicate positive community adjustment. This variable was developed to capture positive adjustment since, in a sample of adolescents, neither school nor work information alone would sufficiently reflect this construct. For example, some adolescents have legally dropped out of school but are working full time and others are not working but are attending school -- both examples fulfill what many would consider a positive social role for an adolescent (see note below for an exception to this view).1

The gainful activity construct is similar to that used by other researchers (see Bullis, Yovanoff & Havel, 2004) and was developed to provide descriptive data about school attendance and employment without drawing inferences about the impact of these simultaneous experiences on development. We do not have information about the quality of work situations and we do not have information regarding the specific number of days the youth missed school (e.g., the interview question from which the school criterion was drawn simply asks "Did you miss five or more days of school this month? Yes/No").

A "gainfully active" month is defined as attending school in the community and missing fewer than five days of school that month, OR working in the community for at least two weeks of the month, at 20 or more hours per week. This marker is generally only assigned to months which are defined as "community" months, that is, months during which the subject was in the community for eight or more days. However, credit was given to those months where the subject was regularly attending community school and/or working part-time in the community during months marked as institution months, although this was rare (see "Data Issues" for more information about this).

The school attendance determination is made using variables from the school calendar, specifically, those asking about school enrollment for each month, the number of days suspended/expelled and whether they missed five or more days of school that month for any reason (physical illness, afraid to go, truancy, etc.). The working part time determination is made using items from the work calendar, including whether they had a community based job that month, the number of weeks worked that month, and the number of hours worked per week.

There are two additional codebook sections that are relevant to gainful activity:

Be sure to review the descriptions for each of these codebook sections in order to obtain a complete understanding of the information we have available regarding school attendance and employment.

Items available from the gainful activity calendar include:

Descriptive Information: Monthly Data Characterizing the Recall Period

As a standard practice, the specific calendar information will be accompanied by four variables which describe the recall period. This information is important for the user to consider when attempting to use data characterizing the recall period (e.g., measures) in conjunction with the monthly-level calendar data. In addition, this information is useful if the user is viewing events from a developmental perspective. These variables include:

In addition, each dataset includes five variables which describe basic information related to the interview. These are explained in full detail in the "Interview Information" section under "Measures". These variables include the completion status of the interview, the date of the interview, version number in which the interview was conducted, the number of months in the recall period, and the number of days in the recall period.

General Information: Use of monthly life calendar data

Data regarding the participant's self-reported contact education and employment is captured using a monthly life-calendar approach (Belli, 1998; Caspi, Moffitt, Thornton, & Freedman, 1996), where the research participant is provided with a visual calendar that contextualizes the recall of research data by anchoring information to salient events. Specifically, individuals are first asked to recount salient events which occurred in the recall period (e.g. birthdays, deaths) and this information remains visible to the participant as an anchor point for the timing of events in each of several life calendar domains. This approach thus creates an integrated view of activities in all of the domains examined, has firm roots in the science of how people remember events and life situations (Bradburn, Rips, and Shevell, 1987; Belli, 1998), and capitalizes on these processes to generate accounts of past events. On a practical level, it provides researchers with a richer set of data points. Instead of simply getting a summary measure of life changes over an extended recall period, the monthly life-calendar places these changes at specific points in time, opening up the possibility of examining sequences of events and potential causal mechanisms within individuals (Fals-Stewart, 2003; Mulvey, et al., 2006).

General Information: Conversion of data to linear months

The monthly Pathways data, in its raw form, is not suited for some kinds of analytic approaches (e.g., trajectory analysis). Each time point interview allows for a maximum of eight or 14 months in the recall period, depending on the follow-up wave (eight months was the maximum for time points 6-36 and 14 was the maximum for time points 48-84). This means that there is a corresponding variable in the dataset reflecting events occurring in each of those months through a maximum of 14 months (the outer limit of any of the possible months covered). If however, the recall period did not include the maximum number of months (as is most often the case), there will be variables with no data. For example, subject 1 has a recall period of five months for follow-up 12 so this means he/she will have data in five monthly variables but not in the remaining nine. Subject 2, has seven months in the recall period for follow-up 12 so he/she will have data in all but seven of the monthly variables. The recall length is set by programming code based on the current date in relationship to the date of the previous interview (see "Interview Information" under Measures for a more detailed description of how the length of the recall period is determined). However, the programming code did permit the interviewer to "reset" by hand the length of the recall period. This was done infrequently, but in some instances it created a situation where we obtained two reports of the same month. For example, follow-up 6 covered months January to June and the interviewer resets the follow-up 12 recall period to start with June (leading to two different reports for the month of June). A series of data cleaning decisions (described in the "Making and Spending Money Calendar Documentation") were implemented to correct these situations but we note them here because they are relevant to the conversion of the data to linear months.

The "linear months" data set-up corrects these two situations. The "linear months" data reformats the variables so that each variable is a sequential representation of life event data for each month of the research participant's life from the baseline interview forward. In this format, variables that were place-markers for months not covered in the recall period are eliminated and situations where there were two reports for the same month are corrected. Thus, "linear month 8" actually represents eight calendar months from the baseline and "linear month 16" is actually 16 months past the baseline interview.

A specific list of variables available in the linear format is provided below. Also provided is a "map" to link the linear month back to the recall period and month in which the information was originally collected. This is important to know when recall-level data is being used in conjunction with the monthly event calendar data.

Data Issues

Items available

For an overview and a detailed list of the questions included with this calendar please select the link(s). In addition to providing an overview of the "flow" of the calendar and a detailed listing of the questions, this document notes version issues (i.e. questions/variables that are only present for a sub-sample due to their later addition to the interview) and provides other information that is critical to using and interpreting the data correctly. The table below gives you an overview of issues related to each construct noted above and it also provides you with the page numbers within our detailed document that address each of these constructs. Please be sure to consider this information carefully before moving forward with your analysis.

Click here to download a detailed document in PDF format.

Description of Variable Variable Name Version Change Page Number
By recall period
Proportion of community months gainfully active S#PropMths_GainfulComm 7
By month
Gainful Activity
Marker for being gainfully active in the community that month S#GainfulActivity_Comm_M## 6
Marker for regularly attending community school that month S#GainfulActivity_Attendance_M## 4
Marker for working part-time in the community that month S#GainfulActivity_Work_M## 5
Data characterizing the recall period
Subject age at each month (truncated) S#SubjAge_M## 10
Subject age at each month (continuous) S#CTSubjAge_M## 10
Community vs. Institution month marker S#CommunityMonth_M## 9
Number of days covered in each month S#NDays## 10
Calendar month linked to each s#m# S#RealDate## 10
Cumulative variables (1yr, 2yr, 3yr, 4yr, 5yr, 6yr, 7yr)
Proportion of community months gainfully active GainfulActivity_Year# 8
By linear month
Gainful Activity
Marker for being gainfully active in the community that month L##GainfulActivity_Comm 12
Marker for regularly attending community school that month L##GainfulActivity_Attendance 12
Marker for working part-time in the community that month L##GainfulActivity_Work 12
Data characterizing the recall period
Subject age at each month (truncated) L##SubjAge 12
Subject age at each month (continuous) L##CTSubjAge 12
Community vs. Institution month marker L##CommunityMonth 12
Number of days covered in each month L##NDays 12
Calendar month linked to each s#m# L##RealDate 12
Additional sections supplement this calendar. Refer to the codebook section for each listing for more information
Interview Information -- contains variables that describe basic information related to the interview, such as interview completion status, interview date, version, and number of months and days covered by the recall period. This can be found under the "Interview Information" section of the Measures codebook.
School Calendar -- Contains information regarding school enrollment and attendance for each month of the recall period.
Making and Spending Money Calendar -- contains information regarding employment, including whether they had a job in each month, the length of each job, and the hours worked.