About Project Talent



Project Talent is a national longitudinal study that first surveyed America’s high school students in 1960. At the time, it was the largest and most comprehensive study of high school students ever conducted in the United States. Over 400,000 students from 1,353 schools across the country participated in two full days or four half days of testing. The study was developed by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute and funded by the United States Office of Education. Follow-up studies were conducted at one, five, and 11 years after expected high school graduation.

Study Design

Project Talent was designed to represent the diversity of the American high school experience in the early 1960s. The study surveyed private, parochial and public schools from every corner of the country; from small rural towns to big cities, and from all economic, cultural, and social backgrounds. For a more detailed explanation of how schools were selected to participate and the content of the tests, see Study Design.

In 2009, researchers at AIR began reexamining the Project Talent data gathered between 1960 and 1974 and immediately recognized their value. New studies are now being designed and conducted, allowing Project Talent’s original participants to continue their involvement with this remarkable and historic study.

Richard Suzman Richard Suzman Director of Behavioral and Social Research at the National Institutes on Aging
February 27, 2012
Project Talent, if properly developed, has the potential to become one of our national treasures. I rank Project Talent as one of the most important and promising social and behavioral science opportunities that have come across my desk in the last decade. Over 10,000 people turn 65 each day in the USA, a critical factor in how we weather this surge is going to be the physical, cognitive, and functional health of those over age 60, including their ability to continue working. The evidence connecting childhood and adult and old age health and cognition is becoming more and more persuasive. Indeed, the last review of my division by our National Advisory Council encouraged us to focus on the long reach of childhood and educational experiences and to look for and develop appropriate datasets that would permit study of the causal pathways.


Project Talent is unique among studies of its kind. It is the only large scale, nationally representative study that tracks participants from childhood to retirement age. This allows researchers to study how experiences, abilities, interests, and personality types demonstrated early in life impact the health and wellbeing of individuals as they age. The scale of the study also enables the examination important subgroups, such as women, twins, racial and ethnic minorities, and veterans. Researchers hope to discover patterns that indicate why some people continue to thrive mentally, physically, and financially throughout their lives, while others are challenged in these areas. Information gained from this type of study can provide crucial insights into the causes, preventions, and remedies for some of the most critical issues facing current and future generations of Americans. It can inform important public policy, educational curricula, and social services to help current and future generations live healthier, happier, and more productive lives.

Finally, the lives of the Project Talent generation span a period of remarkable transformation in the history of this country, from the Civil Rights Act, desegregation, the rise of women’s liberation and the Vietnam War to the coming of the internet age. The American Institutes for Research has a unique opportunity to create an archive of American stories that capture the American experience in all it incarnations.

Project Talent Today

Over the past several years, thousands of original Project Talent participants have taken part in a new wave of studies that seek to provide insights into a variety of pressing issues we face as a nation. Most studies are being funded by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health. Current and planned studies seek to examine the following questions:

  • What factors and conditions, in both childhood and adulthood, indicate a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease later in life? How can we promote positive behaviors and conditions and offset those that increase the risk of cognitive decline? What are the long-term effects, both positive and negative, of adolescent socio-economic adversity on later-life psychological, social, and physical wellbeing? Why do some flourish in these conditions while others languish? (R01 AG056163-01; Prescott, Lapham)
  • Racial minorities suffer from cognitive impairment and cardiovascular disease at a higher rate than their non-minority counterparts. What role does school quality play in protecting or endangering the cognitive and cardiovascular health of minorities later in life? (R01 AG056164-01; Manly, Lapham)
  • Does military service offset the negative effects of a disadvantaged childhood and promote successful social, psychological and economic development? How?
  • What role do adolescent personality traits, such as conscientiousness, play in future socioeconomic and health outcomes later in life? How can we encourage the development of personality traits that lead to positive outcomes in adulthood? (R01 AG053155-01; Chapman, Lapham)
  • The U.S. health system is the most expensive in the world, while being far from the most effective. What early-life circumstances and attributes lead to higher healthcare spending later in life? How can we use this information to develop healthcare policies that focus on preventing health complications rather than treating them after they develop? (Funded by AIR)
More information about Project Talent’s current research activities can be found under New Studies.