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MAJORACT
Major activity preceding week

Codes

This variable is not available for any of the currently selected samples.

Description

MAJORACT reports the responses to an "ice-breaker" question at the start of the interview: "What was [this person] doing most of last week?" Seven specific responses--working, with a job but not at work, looking for work, keeping house, going to school, unable to work, or other--appeared on the form up through 1975. Beginning in 1976, the form included one more response--retired.

CPS interviewers were told to frame the question about major activity according to the age and sex of the respondent. For example, if the person in question was a woman, the query was to be followed by the words, "Keeping house or something else?" If the person in question was a man, the query was to be followed by the words, "Working or something else?" If the person in question was over 14 or over 15 but still quite young, the query was to be followed by the words, "Going to school or something else?" Respondents' answers to the question about their major activity last week determined some of the skip patterns for further questions; for example, those who reported being unable to work were not asked whether they had done any work for pay in the preceding week. With the redesign of the survey in 1994, the question about major activity was dropped, because the Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded that this question discouraged reporting of part-time work, especially by women.

Responses in MAJORACT may differ from how respondents were classified in EMPSTAT, employment status last week. For example, a person who worked for pay for just one hour during the preceding week would be classified as "working" in EMPSTAT but would probably report their major activity as something else.

Comparability

Seven specific responses--working, with a job but not at work, looking for work, keeping house, going to school, unable to work, or other--appeared on the form up through 1975. Beginning in 1976, the form included one more response--retired. Presumably, self-identified retirees would largely have been included in the "not in labor force" categories of "keeping house," "unable to work," or "other" prior to 1976.

Comparability with IPUMS-USA

The IPUMS-CPS variable MAJORACT is similar to, but not comparable with, the ACTIVITY variable included in the 1950 census. The question posed by enumerators--"What was this person doing most of last week: working, keeping house, or something else?"--was somewhat similar to the CPS question. There are a number of important differences, however. First, the CPS form recognized a wider range of initial responses (including "with a job but not at work," "looking for work," "at school," and "retired"). Second, as noted above, CPS interviewers (unlike the census enumerators) framed the query according to the age and sex of the respondent, a practice which presumably shaped respondents' answers. Third, for persons who said they were "keeping house" or doing some "other" activity, the 1950 ACTIVITY variable includes additional detail from follow-up questions about whether the person worked at least one hour or looked for work. The population that acknowledges working or seeking work in response to follow-up questions is more inclusive than the population that states "working" or "looking for work" as their main activity. Fourth, the universes for the two variables differ. Along with the difference in the age cutoff beginning in 1976, MAJORACT excludes members of the armed forces. (Institutional inmates were excluded from the universe for both variables, since institutional inmates were left out of the CPS entirely.) Using the census variables AGE and EMPSTAT, researchers can create a comparable universe for MAJORACT and ACTIVITY. Separating off the initial responses for "working" (code 1 in both MAJORACT and ACTIVITY) and "keeping house" (code 4 in MAJORACT and codes 3, 4, and 5 in ACTIVITY) from a third category that combines all other categories offers the greatest level of comparability achievable using these two variables.

Universe

  • 1962: All persons age 14+ (pre-1968 samples do not include persons under age 14).
  • 1968-1987: Civilians age 14+.
  • 1988-1993: Civilians age 15+.

Availability

Years Jan Feb ASEC Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1962 - - X - - - - - - - - -
1968 – 1993 - - X - - - - - - - - -

Flags

QMAJORAC