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Health and Retirement Study (HRS) & Asset and Health Dynamics among the Oldest Old (AHEAD)


    • Owner / manager
    • Study and sample characteristics
    • Major foci
    • Special supplements and resources
    • Links to other datasets
    • Papers published
    • Dataset accessibility and cost
    • Help desk

Key web links   

Home page

Introduction and guide

Survey contents


Dataset Summary

HRS and AHEAD are large, nationally-representative longitudinal panel surveys of persons age 50 and older (HRS) or 70 and older (AHEAD) at study initiation.  These datasets include an extensive focus on financial and social factors, including wealth and assets, employment and insurance history, family situation, etc., but also include extensive information on health insurance, access and cost, health services utilization, and health status.  In addition to the core modules, HRS and AHEAD have incorporated a wide number of sub-studies and new modules over the years, ranging from cognition to biomarkers to loneliness and social isolation.  Because of its breadth and depth, hundreds of papers have been published on a wide variety of topics.  The dataset is free and publicly-accessible after registration.  For certain sensitive modules, special permission is required.

Expert comments   
The Health and Retirement Study (HRS) is a unique nationally representative longitudinal survey.  Designed to assess health status, employment decisions, and economic security during retirement, the study has followed a core cohort of adults born between 1931-1941 with biennial surveys since 1992.  Very few surveys offer such rich detail on a broad set of variables for a longitudinal cohort over such a long period.  For example, publicly available survey data are currently available for the core HRS cohort from 1992 to 2006.  A group of older elderly adults (AHEAD cohort) has also been followed since 1993, and several younger cohorts have been added in subsequent years.  The surveys have become increasingly sophisticated, and timely supplemental surveys provide additional detail on relevant issues, including cognition, diabetes care, and prescription drug coverage.  Several clinical measures were recently added to the core survey in 2006 and include blood pressure measurements and blood cholesterol and hemoglobin A1c testing.  There are several tools available to help researchers compile longitudinal datasets, including a tracker file, an online cross-reference tool to identify questionnaire concordance across survey waves after 1995, and a longitudinal dataset compiled by RAND researchers that includes many key variables.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the HRS is its linkages to important administrative data sources and to detailed geographic data.  Geographic identifiers down to the census track are available for respondents for each survey year.  HRS participants have also been linked to their earnings and benefits from the Social Security Administration, vital statistics from the National Death Index, and Medicare claims data.  These datasets are restricted and require completion of a somewhat lengthy application process, but the HRS staff are very responsive and helpful to researchers requesting these data.

Although the HRS samples are quite large for a longitudinal survey and may be used to address research questions pertaining to national populations of adults, sample sizes can be limited in analyses of specific subgroups.

Dataset Details

Dataset owner / manager

Sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, managed by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan

Study and sample characteristics

Longitudinal panel survey of approximately 15,000 community-dwelling adults age 50 and older at survey initiation in 1992.  The AHEAD study follows a similar structure with a focus on persons age 70 or older at study initiation.  These studies oversample African-Americans, Hispanics, and Floridians.   See

Major foci   

HRS and AHEAD include an extensive focus on financial and social status, both overall and related to health, but also include information on health status and health services utilization.

 Key topic areas include:
•    Health insurance and access
•    Health care costs
•    Social status
•    Ambulatory care and health status
•    Special populations and settings (elders)

 See page 21:

More specific areas of inquiry include (but are not limited to) the following:
•    Assets and Income and Estate
•    Child Information
•    Cognition
•    Demographics
•    Disability
•    Employment
•    End of Life Decisions
•    Event History and Internet Use
•    Expectations
•    Family Structure and Transfers
•    Functional Limitations and Helpers
•    Health
•    Health and Life Insurance
•    Health Care and ADLs
•    Health Care Services and Costs
•    Health Care Use and Costs
•    Health Care Utilization
•    Health Insurance
•    Health Insurance and Event History
•    Health Services and Insurance
•    Health Status
•    Helper File
•    Housing
•    Income
•    Insurance
•    Insurance and Event History
•    Job History
•    Medicare
•    Modules
•    Net Worth
•    Other Person File (Children and HHmembers)
•    Parent and Sibling Information
•    Parent Information
•    Parents, Siblings and Transfers
•    Physical Health
•    Preload
•    Productive Activities
•    Proxy Cognition
•    Retirement Plans
•    Sibling information
•    Transfers to Others
•    Widowhood
•    Wills and Life Insurance

 (This list is derived from the table at the bottom of :

Special supplements and resources   

In each of the study years, certain modules, supplements, and sub-studies have been added to the core study design.  There are too many to list here, but these cover a wide range of topics such as knowledge of Medicare, loneliness, internet use, health valuation, etc. as well as information on specific diseases such as restless leg syndrome.

For full list see:

In addition, HRS has incorporated a range of supplemental studies including sub-studies and parallel cohorts:

•    Aging, Demographics, and Memory Study (ADAMS)
•    Biomarker data
•    Consumption and Activities Study (CAMS)
•    Children of the Depression study (CODA)
•    Diabetes Study
•    Disability Vignette Study
•    Early boomers study
•    Employer pension provider study (EPPS)
•    Health insurance and pension provider study (HIPPS)
•    Human capital and educational expenses study (HUMS)
•    Mid boomers study (MBB)
•    Prescription Drug Study (PDS)
•    War Baby study (WB)

Links to other datasets   

HRS / AHEAD provide links to data from:
•    Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)
•    National death index (NDI)
•    Social Security Administration (SSA)


Papers published   

HRS:  Click here for a PubMed search for articles using this dataset.
AHEAD:  Click here for a PubMed search for articles using this dataset.

Searchable bibliography:

Papers and publications:

 Examples of papers published using HRS and AHEAD include:

Chronic conditions and mortality among the oldest old.
 Lee SJ, Go AS, Lindquist K, Bertenthal D, Covinsky KE.
 Am J Public Health. 2008 Jul;98(7):1209-14

Prevalence of cognitive impairment without dementia in the United States. 
Plassman BL, Langa KM, Fisher GG, Heeringa SG, Weir DR, Ofstedal MB, Burke JR, Hurd MD, Potter GG, Rodgers WL, Steffens DC, McArdle JJ, Willis RJ, Wallace RB.
 Ann Intern Med. 2008 Mar 18;148(6):427-34.

Screening mammography in older women. Effect of wealth and prognosis.
Williams BA, Lindquist K, Sudore RL, Covinsky KE, Walter LC.  Arch Intern Med. 2008 Mar 10;168(5):514-20.

Racial and ethnic disparities in mobility device use in late life. 
Cornman JC, Freedman VA. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2008 Jan;63(1):S34-41.

Health of previously uninsured adults after acquiring Medicare coverage. 
McWilliams JM, Meara E, Zaslavsky AM, Ayanian JZ.  JAMA. 2007 Dec 26;298(24):2886-94.

Dataset accessibility and cost  

Core dataset is free and available after registering as a user.
Additional data is available with special permission.
Links to all data products (core data and restricted data) can be found at

Help Desk   
Email:  Tel: 734.936.0314
Web link: 

Request a consultation (SGIM members only)
Members of SGIM may request a one-time consultation with an expert in this dataset, for example to explore research ideas or to troubleshoot a problem or vexing question. Please click here for guidelines and the request process.