The story begins with the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), a survey program that was instituted at the University of Chicago in 1941. Since then, NORC has been a major source of social sciences data and research that is collected in the public interest and for corporate interests.
The General Social Survey (GSS) has been a function of NORC since 1972. The GSS recieves its funding from the National Science Foundation Sociology Division and is the most frequently accessed and analyzed, after the US Census, of information that describes the complexities of American Society and that monitors the social change that occurs here.
There are two major components to the GSS. There are core questions which have remained in the survey since 1972. These are retained in order to identify long term trends and to aid in replicating earlier findings. There are attitudinal questions that are designed to gauge the attitude of society on special topics. As a result, the GSS database contains information that frequently makes it the only source of long term information that has “taken the pulse of America”. 1
The two main missions are to “Conduct basic research on the structure and development of American Society” and “to distribute up-to-date, important, high-quality data to social scientists, students, policy makers, and others.” 2
This information is used by corporations, by policy makers, and in academics, where it has been cited in thousands of PhD dissertations and student projects, along with journal articles and other written works. As it is highly regarded as the best source of social trend data, the GSS has a host of trends that have been studied in the long term and in recent terms.
Between 1972 and 2008, GSS has studied 5,364 variables, established time-trends for 1,988 variables, and has constructed 257 trends that have over twenty data points.
At the GSS site, a researcher has two online analytical systems or tools available, NESSTAR and SDA.
NESSTAR is a software system for browsing, downloading or importing, cacheing, analyzing, creating visual representations and publishing metadata. NESSTAR allows online access and is used for publishing multi dimensional tables of data, metadata and survey results. The GSS NESSTARinterface allows the public to access data online and to use various features.
SDAis a program that is run out of the University Of California At Berkeley. It is another way to access several huge databases, including the GSS database.
The GSS is indexed in a variety of ways, including mnemonic, sequential, by subject and by collection. These indexes operate within the NESSTAR environment, but the advanced features of NESSTAR are not available through this portal.
The goals of GSS are not limited to monitoring social change in America, but to build the capacity to compare social sciences data with that of other nations. In 1994, the International Social Survey Program (ISSP)was established in conjunction with 46 countries from every continent. But there are great gaps in the membership. Much of South America is not listed. The African continent only has South Africa as a member.
The GSS site is an easy to use site that also has a newsletter in PDF format and some preformed trend as well as a huge bibliography of articles and papers.
1. NORC.org, “About GSS”
2. NORC.org “National Data Program For Social Sciences”