Project Talent

Image of Gehlen Class of 1960 reunion for Project Talent

Project Talent is an AIR-designed national longitudinal study that first surveyed America’s high school students in 1960. Project Talent is the largest and most comprehensive study of high school students ever conducted in the United States and is now the largest and longest longitudinal life course study. More than 400,000 students from 1,353 private, parochial, and public schools from every corner of the country and all economic, cultural, and social backgrounds participated in a two-day battery of tests and questionnaires. The study followed the students, collecting new data at 1, 5, and 11 years after their high school graduation to better understand what experiences and influences helped prepare them for careers and life after high school. Additional studies focusing on racial disparities, economic mobility, and twins continued until the original participants were in their 40s. 

project talent logoAs study participants move into retirement, Project Talent has become a resource for understanding the aging process, allowing participants to continue involvement in this remarkable and historic study. The National Institute on Aging, for example, has funded several studies, including the Project Talent Aging Study, a major life course study that is providing information about age-related brain and cognitive changes by following 22,500 of the original Project Talent participants. Understanding early life factors that contribute to the retention or deterioration of brain and cognitive functioning in older age can help policymakers determine targets for health promotion interventions. Project Talent, with its unique size, demographic diversity, and comprehensive data from 1960 and beyond, offers an unprecedented opportunity to understand the factors that influence the aging process. Current research focuses on three areas:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD) – Our primary focus on dementia has the broad goal of identifying adolescent antecedents, resilience factors, and life-course mechanisms for Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias and later life health and cognition.  
  • Health Disparities - Our second focus includes research on population-level differences in health status and life expectancy. Socioeconomic adversity in early life is a risk factor for poor brain health in later life, but some individuals are resilient, achieving better-than-expected outcomes despite facing early life adversity. The mechanisms of resilience, as well as the causal pathways between early life adversity and later life brain health, are unclear, but educational experiences are very likely critical. Our research will evaluate the role of school quality and racial disparities in promoting resilience to early life adversity.
  • Mortality and Morbidity - Our third focus includes research about the role individual traits play in socioeconomic mortality and morbidity differentials across the life course.

AIR’s Project Talent Work

  • Project Talent (PTBY, PT1, PT5 and PT11): The nationally representative longitudinal study data file includes 377,016 records of students who were in high school in 1960; includes substantial minority representation and measures aptitudes and abilities, cognition, personality, interests, expectations, aspirations, individual and family background, and socioeconomic status. The sample includes 4,481 twins and triplets from 2,233 families, and 84,000 siblings from 40,000 other families. Information was also collected from principals and guidance staff, including information about the school, guidance programs, and community characteristics. Follow-up surveys were conducted until the students were approximately age 30.
  • The Project Talent Aging Study (PTAS18) includes a core survey and cognitive assessment that includes information on a range of factors related to well-being among older adults, including psychosocial and lifestyle factors, health, cognitive status, family background and connections, employment, and socioeconomic status.
  • The Project Talent Biobank (PTBio) can help researchers better understand how family and school environment, education, and other factors contribute to later life health and wellness. The Biobank includes the collection of biological specimens (saliva) from approximately 1,500 randomly selected Project Talent participants. Biomarkers may help predict health outcomes, including dementia.
  • Project Talent Pilot Study (PTPS12): Pilot study to assess the feasibility of revitalizing Project Talent after 30 years of non-contact. The study included 4,159 cases representative of the 1960 base year sample. Surveys were mailed to individuals and included consent forms for linking to Social Security Administration earnings and benefits data. The study included three experiments to test the effectiveness of pre-paid incentives, a test of logos on the envelope, and a test of incentives.
  • Project Talent Twin and Sibling Study (PTTS16): This study includes 4,481 multiples and their 522 non-twin siblings from 2,233 families. This study is both genetically informative and unique in facilitating separation of the “common” environment into three sources of variation: shared by all siblings within a family, specific to twin pairs, and associated with school/community-level factors. Data file released November 2018.
  • The Project Talent Personality Inventory is a reliable and validated set of personality scales measured in 1960 and useful for researchers interested in life-course outcomes, such as mortality, occupational success, relationship success, and health. The inventory’s 10 subscales are mapped to the Big Five personality traits—openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
  • The Project Talent Mortality Registry tracks mortality and cause of death of Project Talent participants with ongoing linkages to the National Death Index. This study includes linked PT60 data for 82,232 individuals. The purpose of the study is to examine the role individual traits play in socioeconomic mortality differentials across the lifespan. This study can leverage the large size and scope of Project Talent to identify health disparities among the aging population.
  • Administrative Linkages: Project Talent data are linked at the individual level to several sources of administrative data.
    • For information about health and health care utilization, Project Talent data are linked to Medicare records from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Project Talent Medicare (PT-MED) includes linked PTBY data for 143,698 participants to 2012-2013 Medicare claims and expenditures data. The linked file offers the opportunity to study the relationship between adolescent characteristics and a range of public health outcomes in 2012-13 when the study participants were in their mid-60s. The Medicare claims and expenditure data included in PT-MED include the Master Beneficiary Summary File, Research Identifiable Files Medicare Claims Files, Assessment Files, and the Vital Status File.
    • The 2012 Project Talent Pilot Study was linked to administrative records of the Social Security Administration earnings and benefits histories for approximately 2,000 individuals
    • In the next few years, the parents of Project Talent participants will be linked to their 1940 Census data and PT60 will be linked to the 1950 Census data. 
  • Project Talent Contextual Databank: Project Talent data are linked geographically to a broad range of social and environmental data including preschools, high school and neighborhood characteristics, Census, and air and water quality indicators.