A History of Project Talent


In 1960, after several years of planning, 440,000 students from across the country participated in Project Talent. The study gathered an enormous amount of information about America’s young people and led to hundreds of reports, articles, and academic books and to several follow-up studies of the original participants. The timeline below highlights some key moments in the history of this extraordinary project.


  • 1956
    Dr. J. C. Flanagan, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and founder of the American Institutes for Research (AIR), begins planning a large-scale, long-term educational study that surveys the aptitudes and aspirations of American high school students.
  • 1959
    Recognizing Project Talent’s significance, the United States Office of Education grants AIR and the University of Pittsburgh complete funding for the 1960 testing.
  • 1959
    AIR invites public, private, and parochial schools from across the country to participate in Project Talent. 93% of schools accept the invitation and 1,353 join the study.
  • Spring 1960
    440,000 students in grades 9-12 (approximately 5% of the high school students in America) spend two and a half days taking the Project Talent tests.
  • Spring 1960
    Scientists at the Measurement Research Center at the University of Iowa invent a new machine capable of quickly and accurately reading the millions of pieces of data generated by the Project Talent questionnaires.
  • Summer 1960
    Individual test scores are mailed back to the schools and are distributed to students by guidance counselors.
  • 1960
  • 1961 to 1963
    One year after their respective high school graduations, the classes of 1960-1963 receive their one-year follow-up questionnaire.
  • 1962
    Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson applauds Dr. J. C. Flanagan’s work on Project Talent, writing that, “it would be difficult to think of a more worthwhile undertaking than your efforts to assure that the best use is made of our nation’s most valuable resource.”
  • 1963
    7,500 of the students who participated in Project Talent as 9th graders are retested.
  • 1965 to 1968
    Five years after their high school graduations, the classes of 1960-1963 receive their 5-year follow up questionnaires.
  • 1971 to 1974
    Eleven years after their respective high school graduations, the classes of 1960-1963 receive their 11-year follow up questionnaires.
  • 1981
    The influential Lives after Vietnam: the Personal Impact of Military Service (Card, J.J., Lexington Books) is published, based on the experiences of 1,500 9th-grade Project Talent participants.
  • 1984 and 1989
    AIR conducts two separate studies to determine whether it is possible to relocate the original study participants for further testing. Primarily due to changes in names and addresses and limitations in technology, both studies conclude that it is too difficult and too costly to contact all of the participants for another follow-up at that time.
  • 1990 to 2000
    Individual researchers at AIR continue to be interested in potential uses for Project Talent data, but no official study is undertaken. Project Talent findings continue to be referenced in academic articles in psychology, economics, and education (see Bibliography section for full listing).
  • 2009
    The American Institutes for Research conducts a small feasibility study to determine whether the original participants can be located. Thanks to technological advancements, the study is remarkably successful and, 50 years after the original Project Talent study was launched, AIR decides to conduct a follow-up.
  • 2010
    AIR launches outreach efforts to reconnect with Project Talent’s original participants. Representatives attend 50th high school reunions, beginning with the Class of 1960, across the country. Social science, health, aging, and economics researchers begin designing follow-up studies that will transform Project Talent into an unparalleled resource for research on aging and the life course.
  • 2013
    The Project Talent Twins and Siblings Study (PTTS) is launched. Over 2,500 twin pairs and their siblings take part in the study which is designed to determine the role that genetics, environmental factors, and life choices, play in the development of physical health and behavioral traits and how these characteristics influence the aging process. For more information, see Twins & Siblings Study.
  • 2016
    Project Talent secures major funding for the Project Talent Aging Study, which seeks to unlock the mysteries of how and why early life experiences and attributes impact later life outcomes and what can be done to help all Americans live healthier, happier, and more productive lives. For more information, see Current and Planned Studies.