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Funded Research

Enhancing Retrospective Life History Data in the Health and Retirement Study

Several population studies within the network of Health and Retirement studies have collected retrospective life histories to address multidisciplinary needs for information about partners, fertility, finances, employment, health, and residential location over the entire life course. These data about events and contexts in childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and early midlife provide new insights into societal, historical, subgroup, and idiosyncratic factors that contribute to late-life outcomes. The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and Survey of Health and Ageing in Europe (SHARE) fielded harmonized 50-minute computer-assisted in-person event history interviews in 2007 and 2008/2009 respectively. Because of the length, cost, and the constraints of its biennial protocol, this life history interview module has not yet been included the US Health and Retirement Study (HRS). We adopt a four-step approach to begin to address the need for such data in HRS. First, we will undertake an in-depth review of the current status of HRS life history data and determine the extent that these data could be harmonized with the ELSA and SHARE life histories. Much information about employment, marital/partnership, fertility, and health histories and lifetime traumas has already been collected in HRS biennial interviews. These data, however, were collected in different waves and are difficult for users to aggregate and reconcile. We anticipate that our in-depth review process will identify gaps in existing HRS records of work, residential, education, and health histories and inconsistencies in questions and codes compared to the ELSA and SHARE data. Second, following this review and in consultation with sister studies, we will design and test a self-administered paper Life History Mail Survey (LHMS) to fill the gaps and supplement HRS life histories. Third, we plan to field the LHMS in HRS in 2017. HRS is currently funded to collect two mail surveys in 2017: 40% of the panel will be assigned to the Consumption and Activities Mail Survey (CAMS) and the remaining 60% will receive a mail survey on a different topic. We seek funds to collect and process an additional mail survey (the LHMS) from 40% of the HRS panel (i.e., the CAMS subsample). HRS will collect and process the LHMS from the remaining 60% of the panel. Finally, we will consolidate and disseminate several user-friendly HRS life history public and restricted data products. We will also produce technical reports, documentation, and user guides to disseminate on the HRS website. One public file will consolidate aggregated information from various biennial waves: A second will release the 2017 LHMS data. The potential benefit to HRS-users of this initial enriched stock of information about the lives of HRS participants between childhood and age 50 will be major. The availability of these resources will expand the scope of harmonized data across HRS, ELSA, SHARE, and related studies and foster multidisciplinary cross-national comparisons of life course factors associated with health and well-being in later life. Our work will serve as the foundation for future linkages of HRS life histories with administrative data.


Health and Human Services, Department of-National Institutes of Health

Funding Period:

09/14/2018 to 08/31/2019