General Social Survey (GSS)

Since 1972, the General Social Survey (GSS) has been monitoring societal change and studying the growing complexity of American society. The GSS aims to gather data on contemporary American society in order to monitor and explain trends and constants in attitudes, behaviors, and attributes; to examine the structure and functioning of society in general as well as the role played by relevant subgroups; to compare the United States to other societies in order to place American society in comparative perspective and develop cross-national models of human society; and to make high-quality data easily accessible to scholars, students, policy makers, and others, with minimal cost and waiting.

GSS questions include such items as national spending priorities, marijuana use, crime and punishment, race relations, quality of life, and confidence in institutions. Since 1988, the GSS has also collected data on sexual behavior including number of sex partners, frequency of intercourse, extramarital relationships, and sex with prostitutes.

Other researchers are invited to participate in the GSS. In 2012, additional questions addressed generosity, high risk behaviors, climate change, work values, human values, work place conflict, congregations, volunteering, religious identity, the environment, transition to adulthood, religious literature, participation in the arts, and racial identity.

The 2014 GSS has modules on quality of working life, shared capitalism, wealth, work and family balance, social identity, social isolation, and civic participation.

The GSS is NORC’s longest running project, and one of its most influential. Except for U.S. Census data, the GSS is the most frequently analyzed source of information in the social sciences. GSS data are used in numerous newspaper, magazine, and journal articles, by legislators, policy makers, and educators. The GSS is also a major teaching tool in colleges and universities: more than 26,000 journal articles, books and Ph.D. dissertations are based on the GSS; and about 400,000 students use the GSS in their classes each year.

In 1985 the GSS co-founded the International Social Survey Program (ISSP). The ISSP has conducted an annual cross-national survey each year since then and has involved 58 countries and interviewed over one million respondents. The ISSP asks an identical battery of questions in all countries; the U.S. version of these questions is incorporated into the GSS. The 2014 ISSP topics are National Identity and Citizenship.


News FiveThirtyEight: GSS questions on social issues may show how people align themselves politically More
Posted: 4.16.2015 9:16AM
News The Washington Post: Americans' low confidence in government institutions according to recent GSS data and findings More
Posted: 3.23.2015 5:09PM
News NBC News: The General Social Survey shares data and insight into how Americans classify themselves More
Posted: 3.23.2015 5:07PM
News The Associated Press: 2014 GSS data shows low confidence in government institutions More
Posted: 3.23.2015 5:04PM
News The Huffington Post: GSS data shows the increase of support for same-sex marriage in the United States More
Posted: 3.12.2015 5:42PM


Visit the GSS website


Field Director

Lauren Doerr
(312) 759-4207

Principal Investigator

Tom W. Smith

(773) 256-6288

Senior Staff

Ned English

Ned English
Senior Survey Methodologist

Colm O'Muircheartaeigh

Colm O'Muircheartaigh
Senior Fellow and Co-Principal Investigator

Steven Pedlow

Steven Pedlow
Senior Survey Statistician

Tom W. Smith

Tom W. Smith
Senior Fellow and Director