Skip to main content

General Social Survey

GSS 1972-2021 Cumulative Data File

The 1972-2021 GSS cumulative data file for the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Surveys (GSS) is available from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research for immediate download.

These data have been processed by the Roper Center and differ in several ways from the original version supplied by NORC. During the archival process, systematic changes have been made to the data files for completeness.

These changes include:

  • Additions and corrections to response labeling
  • Inclusion of “Don’t know,” “No answer,” and “Skipped on web” responses as valid
  • Since a number of variables differ and new variables have been added to the cumulative data file, the codebook frequencies should not be trusted as definitive response distributions.

In 2008 the GSS started a transition from a replicating cross-sectional design to a design that uses rotating panels. There were two components: a new 2008 cross-section with 2,023 cases and the first reinterviews with 1,536 respondents from the 2006 GSS. In 2010 the new design was fully implemented. There was a new cross-section of 2,044 cases, the first reinterviews of the 2008 GSS respondents, and the second and final reinterviews of the 2006 GSS respondents. This three-wave, rolling panel design was also used in 2012. Each GSS in 2006-2010 thus started a new 4-year/3-wave panel, which was completed four years later (2006-08-10, 2008-10-12, 2010-12-14). However, in 2012 no new three-wave panel was started.

GSS Description

The National Data Program for the Social Sciences (NDPSS) is both a data diffusion project and a program of social indicator research. Its data collection instrument, the General Social Survey (GSS), was fielded for the 33rd time in 2021. Previously an annual survey, the GSS became biennial in 1994. The questionnaire contains a standard core of demographic and attitudinal variables, plus certain topics of special interest selected for rotation (called “topical modules”). Items that appeared on national surveys between 1973 and 1975 are replicated. The exact wording of these questions is retained to facilitate time trend studies as well as replications of earlier findings.

The 1972-2021 cumulative data file contains individual response coding for 68,846 respondents and 6,361 variables. 

Currently, the Principal Investigators are Michael Davern, NORC at the University of Chicago; René Bautista, NORC at the University of Chicago; Jeremy Freese, NORC at the University of Chicago; Stephen L. Morgan, NORC at the University of Chicago; Tom W. Smith, NORC at the University of Chicago.

Former Principal Investigators include James A. Davis, formerly Director of NORC and now a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago; Tom W. Smith, Senior Fellow and Director of NORC's Center for the Study of Politics and Society and Director of the General Social Survey (GSS), and Peter V. Marsden, Research Associate, NORC and Department of Sociology, Harvard University.

The new survey has been added to the cumulative file, which now contains data spanning over 40 years.

Contents of the GSS

PDF Archive file 
2021 Individual GSS Codebook PDF Archive file
1972-2018 Cumulative GSS Codebook PDF Archive file 
2021 Individual SPSS Portable file 
2021 Individual SPSS Statistics file 
2021 Individual ASCII file 
2021 Individual STATA file 
2021 Individual CSV file 
1972-2021 Cumulative SPSS Portable file
1972-2021 Cumulative SPSS Statistics file 
1972-2021 Cumulative ASCII file 
1972-2021 Cumulative STATA file
1972-2021 Cumulative CSV file 
GSS Release Notes PDF Archive file
2021 Individual GSS Variables Guide PDF Archive file
2021 Individual GSS Questionnaires (English) PDF Archive file
2021 Individual GSS Questionnaires (Spanish) PDF Archive file
2021 Individual Transparency Score PDF Archive file

GSS 1972-2021 Technical Specifications

GSS Methodology

The General Social Surveys have been conducted during the first six months of each year. There are a total of 64,846 completed interviews:


*Black oversample

The median length of the interview has been about one and a half hours.

GSS Sample Design

  • Each survey from 1972 to 2021 was an independently drawn sample of English-speaking persons 18 years of age or over, living in non-institutional arrangements within the United States.
  • Starting in 2006 Spanish-speakers were added to the target population.
  • Block quota sampling was used in 1972, 1973, and 1974 surveys and for half of the 1975 and 1976 surveys.
  • Full probability sampling was employed in half of the 1975 and 1976 surveys and the 1977, 1978, 1980, 1982-1991, 1993-1998, 2000 through 2021 surveys.
  • Also, the 2004 through 2018 surveys had sub-sampled non-respondents (see Appendix A for a detailed description of the sample design).

GSS Data Processing

The data from the interviews were processed according to standard NORC procedures.

This cumulative data set merges all 33 surveys into a single file with each year or survey acting as a sub file. This greatly simplifies the use of the General Social Surveys for both trend analysis and pooling. In addition, this cumulative data set contains newly created variables (e.g. a poverty line code). Finally, the cumulative file contains certain items never before available.

GSS 2021 Special Topical Modules

  • ISSP Social Inequality: This module has previously been asked four times, beginning in 1982, and last in 2009. It focuses on attitudes toward and descriptions of social inequality, both between individuals and between countries. This iteration was created by the ISSP 2019 Drafting Group, led by Jarè Struwig and Benjamin Roberts of South Africa. Like all ISSP modules, two-thirds of the items are repeats from previous rounds, while one-third are new items.

  • ISSP Environment: This module has previously been asked three times, beginning in 1993, and last in 2010. It focuses on attitudes and opinions about the environment, including newly expanded items focusing on climate change. This iteration was created by the ISSP 2020 Drafting Group, led by Markus Hadler and Markus Schweighart of Austria. Like all ISSP modules, two-thirds of the items are repeats from previous rounds, while one-third are new items.

  • Healthy People: Healthy People is focused on self-rated perceptions of mental and physical health. It was previously asked in 2018. Healthy People was proposed to the GSS by William T. Riley, Director, Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, National Institutes of Health.

  • Religion: Religion expands the GSS Replicating Core religion opinion items, looking at religious identity and belief, as well as attitudes toward religion in secular contexts. Religion was developed by Melissa Wilde and Michele Margolis at University of Pennsylvania.

  • Social Inequality: Social Inequality is meant to pair with ISSP Social Inequality, expanding topics within the Social Inequality module, focusing on the relationships and obligations between workers, government, and private businesses. It was developed by Leslie McCall (City University of New York), Jonas Edlund (Umeå universitet), and Arvid Lindh (Stockholms universitet).

  • NSF Science Knowledge and Attitudes: Following the recommendation from the GSS Scientific Advisory Board, a reduced version of the NSF Science Knowledge and Attitudes module, active since 2006, was asked on the 2021 GSS Cross-section. The reduced module maintained only the items thought to be relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • High-risk Behaviors: High Risk Behaviors, developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is a self-administered module that has been in use with modifications since 1988. It includes items on recent sexual history as well as sexual history since the age of 18, as well as drug use, HIV testing, and sexual orientation.

  • GSS Scientific Advisory Board Items: At the request of the GSS Scientific Advisory Board, several items were added to the 2021 GSS Cross-section in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as civil unrest movements in the wake of the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, among others, in the spring and summer of 2020. The Board module contains items on racial discrimination, attitudes toward policing, and trust related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

GSS 1972-2018 Cumulative Codebook

by Tom W. Smith, Michael Davern, Jeremy Freese, Stephen Morgan

GSS Codebook Description

Comprehensive information on all aspects of the General Social Surveys 1972-2018 project. Codebook contains exact question text, response codes and frequency counts for 6,108 variables used by the National Opinion Research Center for over 40 years. While the codebook is intended to be used in conjunction with the General Social Survey 1972-2018 cumulative data file, the codebook alone holds a wealth of opinion data on a wide variety of social issues.

Table of Contents

New Developments 
Abbreviations and Data Identification Numbers 
Index to Data Set 
Codes for the 1972-2018 Surveys — Includes variable names, exact question text, response categories and codes, and unweighted marginal frequencies for questions in selected years. 
General Social Survey Topical Modules 
International Social Survey Program (ISSP) Modules 
Other GSS Variables (including socio-demographic variables) 

GSS Download

The GSS 2021 dataset and codebook are available for immediate download – Download GSS Dataset and Codebook


Please contact the Roper Center at 607.255.8129 or email Data Services.