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Inside NIA: A Blog for Researchers “Access international data from HRS “family of studies”’

Re-posted From National Institute on Aging Research and Funding Blog, Posted on June 10, 2015 by the NIA Blog Team 

NIA is supporting a unique new website—the Gateway to Global Aging Data—that enables cross-national comparisons of the health, social, and economic status of older people. If you haven’t looked at what’s available, or you haven’t looked recently, I encourage you to check it out.

Do you need to know if people in Estonia smoke more than people in Germany? What might be behind why people in Japan live longer than people in other developed countries? The Gateway makes it easy to create interactive graphs and tables to immediately examine population estimates of various countries over time. You can generate graphs and tables to compare the same measures between sub-populations within a country or quickly identify cross-country differences, as well as changes over time.

You may know that NIA has supported the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) for more than 20 years. But, did you know that NIA has also encouraged the development of additional longitudinal studies of aging in other countries around the world that are designed to be comparable to the HRS?

An innovative tool for health research

You can now access data from 11 longitudinal studies on aging through this site, which is hosted by the University of Southern California’s Program on Global Aging, Health, and Policy. The project’s goal is to provide the resources to support cross-national research on aging: a comprehensive digital library of survey questions, a search engine that finds concordance information across surveys, and a set of harmonized or identically defined variables for analysis. You can even use a data manipulation tool on the website.

In every country, the world’s population is getting older. Cross-nationally comparable population data gives researchers the chance to examine the factors that explain international differences in health, such as the 2006 paper comparing the health of older people in England and the U.S. That study found that, despite spending twice as much per capita on health care, Americans were significantly less healthy than their English counterparts. By studying commonalities and differences in many countries and peoples, we can better understand how population aging and related changes in social and behavioral factors influence health for older people around the world.

A wealth of data

The core content of the 11 harmonized studies includes data on:

  • Health, cognition, diseases, emotion, injury, physical functions, physical measures, and health behaviors
  • Health insurance, health services utilization, health care expenditure, and out-of-pocket spending
  • Labor force, employment status/history, earnings, disability, retirement, work characteristics, and pensions
  • Economic status, income, wealth, consumption, earnings, government transfers, housing, and financial and non-financial assets
  • Family structure, social network, family demographics, family exchange, family support, marriage, and social participation

Sign up and get started

You can access and analyze the data from any and all of the studies now available on the site. All you have to do is register—which is easy and free.

You can browse metadata from all surveys without downloading it. And, data are organized by survey and module with illustrative flowcharts showing skip patterns.

The Gateway has more than just data

Thousands of journal articles, books, reports, and other publications based on data from the studies are listed on the site and can be sorted by survey, title, author, source, year, and topic.

Grows from the Health and Retirement Study

Today, the Health and Retirement Study “family of studies” includes data from dozens of countries that together make up over half of the world population. National population samples with comparable data create opportunities for researchers to exploit the “cross-national laboratory” to investigate how different policy, cultural, and physical environments influence health and well-being. New studies are being planned as more governments recognize the importance of studying the aging population.