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Chicago Health and Social Life Survey

Principal Investigator: Edward O. Laumann, Ph.D., George Herbert Mead Distinguished Service Professor and Departmental Chair, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago

Survey Dates: 1995, 1997



Sexual behavior underlies many important health issues such as non-marital fertility among teens and sexually transmitted disease. Social norms structure both sexual behavior itself and responses to related outcomes such as unwanted pregnancies, infertility or sexual dysfunction, but too little is known about how sexual behavior is socially organized among adults. The purpose of this research project is to advance the social scientific understanding of adult sexual behavior in the United States. The Chicago Health and Social Life Survey (CHSLS) contains important elaborations and extensions to the National Health and Social Life Survey. The CHSLS has a survey component of 2,114 cases divided between a representative cross-section of the Chicago metropolitan area (N=890) and a set of four over samples in ethnically and socially distinctive urban neighborhoods (N=1224). 

The aim is to describe sexual behavior, and understand its causes and its consequences. The broad range of our interests include; (a) the socially orchestrated number and selection of sex partners and their social relationships to the respondent (b) the practices and preferences that constitute sexual conduct and its evaluation by individuals and institutions, and the consequences of sexual behavior for marriage and living arrangements, fertility, disease, sexual dysfunction and sexual pleasure and emotional gratification.


Population Surveyed

Five survey data sets: 1 for Cook County (the entire city of Chicago and the first suburban ring) and 4 community areas within the city of Chicago. The areas have been assigned pseudonyms: Shoreland, an area of young singles and gay male concentration, middle to upper-middle-class; L-Side, an area of Mexican immigrant and Mexican-American concentration, working-class; Erlinda, an area of mixed Hispanic concentration with a Puerto Rican public identity, working-class; and Southtown, an African-American neighborhood of mixed lower, working and middle-class residents.

All Erlinda cases were collected during 1997, it was a later-funded neighborhood area. The bulk of the cases from the other four samples were collected during 1995, but the field was re-opened for these areas in 1997 to boost response rates and numbers of cases. Respondents were non-institutionalized adults ages 18-59 who spoke either English or Spanish with enough fluency to conduct an interview. Bilingual interviewers and Spanish-language instruments were available for Spanish-speaking respondents. Surveys were conducted in-person using computer-assisted personal interview technology (CAPI). Samples were drawn using area-probability methods. Field operations were conducted by the National Opinion Research Center affiliated with the University of Chicago.

Topical Areas

The survey focuses on sexual behavior. There are 17 sections: demographic data; sexual partners; detailed information on two most recent partners; partners in last 12 months; use of birth control methods; respondent's social networks; respondent's exposure to sexual contact as a child; respondent's exposure to forced sexual contact; first sexual intercourse; lifetime sexual history; neighborhood characteristics; general and sexual health; attitudes toward sexuality and sex roles; domestic violence; sexual orientation; general sexuality; and respondent's evaluation of the survey itself; and respondent's evaluation of interviewer. The last five sections were self-administered.


A question about what the respondent calls his or her neighborhood and the names of specific places frequented in the neighborhood will be withheld from the public use tape for reasons of confidentiality. A related data set based on open-ended interviews with service providers and community leaders will not be made public use, also for reasons of preserving confidentiality.

The following links to the data and documentation for the public use version of CHSLS include the questionnaire, frequency tables, and data file in SAS v8.0, SPSS v. 10.0, and STATA v. 6.0 format. All data files have 2114 observations and 1494 variables.

Survey Questionnaire

Frequency Tables



Technical questions about the data or documentation should be referred to the Data Archive at the Social Science Reasearch Computing Center at the University of Chicago,


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