General Social Survey (GSS)

Since 1972, the General Social Survey (GSS) has monitored societal change and studied the growing complexity of American society.

The General Social Survey (GSS) is NORC’s longest-running project and one of its most influential. GSS data are frequently used in newspaper, magazine, and journal articles and by legislators, policymakers, and educators. The GSS also serves as a major teaching tool in colleges and universities. More than 32,500 journal articles, books, and Ph.D. dissertations are based on GSS data, and approximately 400,000 students use the GSS in their classes each year.

The GSS gathers data on contemporary American society to:

  • Monitor and explain trends and constants in attitudes, behaviors, and attributes
  • Examine the structure and functioning of society in general as well as the roles played by relevant subgroups
  • Place American society in comparative perspective and develop cross-national models of human society
  • Make high-quality data easily accessible to scholars, students, policymakers, and others with minimal cost and waiting

GSS topics include regarding national spending priorities, marijuana use, crime, intergroup relations, social and economic life, lifestyle, civil liberties, subjective well-being, and confidence in institutions. Since 1988, the GSS has also collected data on sexual behavior, including number of sex partners, frequency of intercourse, and extramarital relationships.

In 1985 the GSS cofounded the International Social Survey Program (ISSP). Since then, the ISSP has conducted an annual cross-national survey and has involved 60 countries and has interviewed more than 1 million respondents. The ISSP asks an identical battery of questions in all countries; the U.S. version of these questions is incorporated into the cross-sectional GSS studies.

In 2020, the NORC team responsible for conducting the survey quickly pivoted away from the traditional face-to-face method of surveying the public to adapt our data collection methods to web-based and telephone surveys to protect the health and safety of both the interviewers and survey participants in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. We conducted the GSS as two studies: a panel study (re-interview of 2016 and 2018 cases) and a cross-sectional study (with a newly selected representative sample from 2020). In the spring of 2021, the GSS released the panel data. In the fall of 2021, the GSS released the 2021 cross-sectional data. Users can consult a methodological primer on the panel data to help them understand the scope and possibilities provided in the 2020 GSS panel data; and users can consult a methodological primer on the cross-sectional data to help them understand the scope and possibilities provided in the 2021 GSS cross-sectional data. To consult full documentation of the 2020 GSS, please visit:


Data from the 2020 General Social Survey (GSS) are now available.

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GSS Data Explorer Key Trends

Quickly visualize trends and compare user response over time with the GSS Data Explorer.

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Infographics and Visualizations


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