Tracking US social change over a half-century: The general social survey at fifty

Peter V. Marsden, Tom W. Smith, Michael Hout

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In the five decades since its inception in 1971, the General Social Survey (GSS) project has prospectively recorded the current characteristics, backgrounds, behaviors, and attitudes of representative cross sections of American adults covering more than two generations and more than a century of birth cohorts. A foundational resource for contemporary social science, the data it produces and disseminates enable social scientists to develop broad and deep understandings into the changing fabric of US society, and aid legions of instructors and students in teaching and learning. It facilitates internationally comparative survey research and places the United States in the context of other societies through the International Social Survey Program, which it cofounded. This article first recounts the GSS's origins, design, and development. It then surveys contributions based on GSS data to studies of stratification and inequality, religion, sociopolitical trends, intergroup relations, social capital and social networks, health and well-being, culture, and methodology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAnnual Review of Sociology
PublisherAnnual Reviews Inc.
Number of pages26
StatePublished - Jul 30 2020

Publication series

NameAnnual Review of Sociology
ISSN (Print)0360-0572


  • attitudes
  • inequality
  • religion
  • social capital
  • social change

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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