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Data Research for Labor Economics: Data Discovery

This guide is intended for students who are in the process of finding research data for their labor economics projects.

Getting Started

Now that you have your research question, what are some of the things that you need to consider when you start to search for data that supports or refutes your research question? How do you identify the type of data that you need? Where should you search for this data? This page has some tips to help you get started on your data search. 

Note: The resources and tips on this page are primarily designed to help you locate existing datasets, not to provide instruction on collecting your own data.

Discovering Established Datasets: Look For The Clues

An established researcher in Labor Economics often knows what datasets and sources are available in the field (or at least the most popular or most highly cited ones) because they are immersed in the field and have been for some time.

As a student, you might not be as aware of data sources for your research project, but there are a number of tips and tricks for locating them that you can use as you begin your research, including clues you can find in the literature on your topic. We've outlined a few of these clues on this page for you. 

Clue: Look at References

When searching for available data, one good place to look is in the reference section of published papers. Citations can give you can get a sense of where data on your topic or similar topics might be available, and can also give you some insight into how the author constructed their dataset if they gathered data from multiple sources. Learning how other authors located their data can help you build your understanding of how to locate the appropriate data for your own project.

An excerpt from a bibliography with an individual citation bordered by an orange rectangle. The citation is for the Eurostat Labor Force Survey.

Clue: Look at Notes

Much like the bibliography or references section of a paper, endnotes or footnotes can also be a valuable source of information on where the authors located - or how they themselves collected - any quantitative or qualitative data used for their analysis. 

SThe notes section of a paper. The first note reads "Eurostat provides an explanation of [highlighted in yellow] how these are calculated...A useful video is also available here." A box that says "Relevant Details" covers the first part of text on the second note, but an arrow points to a link to an EU policy framework that was cited in the paper as another example of where to find data. Note 7 points to the European Employment Services cooperation network as another example of where the authors located data for this study.

Data bibliographies, matrixes, and lists. Oh my!

Clue: Look at Methodology

In the literature, data will be described:
  • In the Methodology section:
    • Models or Formulas used
  • In the Definitions section
    • A description of which (secondary) dataset was used and
      • Why it was selected
      • What it covers
      • What it does not cover
      • General descriptive statistics
        • e.g. covers X time periods
        • e.g. focuses on Y age group

Categories of Data

During the early stages of your research, it can be helpful to try and narrow down the type of data you need for your project. Here are a few very broad types of quantitative and qualitative data that you might be looking for, and some data-related questions you might ask that might lead you to that type of data:

  • Survey data
  • Time series data: Data that typically measures a variable over several (or many) points in time. "I am looking for data on [variable] that goes back 10 years/months/etc."
  • Geospatial data: Compares one or more variables for different states, countries, or other geographic regions. This data type is often used in conjunction with GIS software.

Aside from the ways in which the data is collected or recorded, data can also be categorized by the type of data collected:

  • Economic data
  • Organizational data
  • Demographic data
  • Acts, behavior, or events
  • Reports of acts, behavior, or events
  • Self-identity
  • Shallow opinions and attitudes
  • Deeply held opinions and attitudes
  • Personal feelings
  • Cultural knowledge
  • Expert knowledge
  • Personal and psychological traits
  • Experience as it presents itself to consciousness
  • Hidden social patterns

When looking for data related to labor economics, you will most likely be focused on the first three types of data, but it's helpful to be aware of what is available!