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 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 20,000 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.
Since 1985, the GSS has taken part in the International Social Survey Program, a consortium of social scientists from 49 countries around the world. The ISSP asks an identical battery of questions in all countries; the U.S. version of these questions is incorporated into the GSS.