The JSTOR of Data Archives: ICPSR

Connecticut College is a member of ICPSR (Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research), a data archive of more than 500,000 files of research in the social sciences. It hosts 16 specialized collections of data in education, aging, criminal justice, substance abuse, terrorism, and other fields. In this post, Anrdrew Lopez walks us through one scenario for using this rich resource.

Search Tip: Focus on Variables

Like other library databases, there are many options for searching the contents of ICPSR. This activity of searching for data in ICPSR takes places on the big purple tab. Because many of the studies in ICPSR are so large, however, they often contain hundreds of variables or more, it can be effective to focus a search on finding individual variables inside and across studies, rather than searching for the “perfect” study. 

Inside ICPSR, this involves using the Search/Compare Variables feature:

Purple Search Ribbon in ICPSR

Inside the variable search feature, use one or more keywords to search for variables across studies. I tried searching for “LGBT” and got 63 results. The variable highlighted below in the results list caught my interest, “LGBT organizations addressing the three most important issues facing LGBT communities of color.” 

List of Variables from Search

By clicking on the link to the variable, it opens in the context of the study of which it is a part.

Variable Result in Context

It is very easy to find other variables/questions that were asked in conjunction with the one I selected by looking at the column on the left. Other interesting questions are, “Homophobia is a problem within my racial or ethnic community (Q5A),” “Homophobia is a problem in my neighborhood,” “I feel connected with my local LGBT community,” and more. 

Working with Variables

I am interested in one of the variables on homophobia(Q5A), so I click the link at the top of the page to the study proper: “Social Justice Sexuality Project: 2010 National Survey, including Puerto Rico (ICPSR 34363).” On the study page, I can see this study contains 304 variables, and there is information about accessing the data, where I can see it has been prepared with options for built-in online analysis.

Dataset Options

These options mean the data for the study can be accessed on-screen without the use of any other statistical software, which is otherwise necessary for working with data in ICPSR. To take advantage of either option, and because we are going to be working with sensitive research data, you will need to create an ICPSR account and login.

Run a Crosstab/Frequency

To run a Simple Crosstab/Frequency I select the variables which initially interested me:

  • Row = Q5A: Homophobia is a problem within my racial or ethnic community
  • Column = RACECAT: Race categories
  • Control = GENDERID: Gender Identity
  • Run the table

This produces a series of data tables and charts, where I can see the results for the responses to the question about homophobia broken down according to the race and gender categories I selected. The chart below shows the response data for males:

Chart Showing Survey Results from Males

This chart shows the response data for females:

Chart Showing Survey Results from Females


ICPSR offers many more features for using and teaching with research data. For more information or if you have questions, contact Andrew Lopez, Research & Instruction Librarian.


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