As We Age: A Review of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, 1957-2001

Sewell, William H., Robert Hauser, Kristen W. Springer, and Taissa Hauser
Working paper no. 2001-09


The authors review the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS) across its history of more than 40 years. The WLS began as a study of post-secondary aspirations and educational attainment among Wisconsin high school graduates of 1957, but it has become a major, long-term study of the life-course and aging. The most visible contributions of the WLS to date have been theories and models of the process of stratification. We review those findings and criticisms of them, especially the claim that we ignore social structures and their effects. These criticisms have often been vague or have lacked empirical support. In research on stratification, the concept of social structure has been more a symbolic goal than a guide to theory and research. This review brings readers up to date with the full range of work on the project and an array of future prospects as of 2002, the year in which the WLS begins its second phase of data collection as a study of aging. A full bibliography of WLS publications is appended.