377,000 students. 1,300 schools. In 1960, AIR launched Project Talent, the largest and most comprehensive study of high school students ever conducted in the United States. Now, as the original study participants move into retirement, Project Talent has become a promising resource for understanding the aging process.
Created by AIR’s founder, John Flanagan, and funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the study assessed a broad cross-section of the American high school population. Students participated in a two-day battery of tests and questionnaires covering aptitude, abilities, interests, and individual and family characteristics. Until 1974, the study followed these students, collecting new data at one, five, and eleven years after their expected high school graduation date.
The purpose of the study was to (1) create a national inventory of human resources and talent, (2) better understand the processes by which young people choose and advance their careers, and (3) discern which experiences and influences are the most important in preparing students for their future.
Today, Project Talent is being developed as a resource on aging and the life course and offers the ability to study special populations including twins, veterans, and racial/ethnic groups. The existing data are being used to address questions about early life predictors of mortality and resilience, and sources of variation in intellectual abilities and achievements associated with schools, families, and biological mechanisms. A pilot study conducted in 2011-12 demonstrated the feasibility of locating and engaging the original participants whose last point of contact may have been more than 50 years ago.
AIR’s work on Project Talent has included the following:
- Launching a major study of Project Talent’s twins and their siblings in order to develop the country’s first nationally-representative twins and siblings database (see below for more information)
- Modernizing the Project Talent data and data documentation and working to make the data more accessible to researchers
- Locating, tracking, and reengaging study participants
- Designing sampling and data collection plans and analyzing the impact of methodological procedures
- Presenting and publishing methodological research
- Designing follow-up studies of the entire 1960 cohort to examine factors affecting resilience and aging