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HEALTH AND RETIREMENT STUDY
All waves of the HRS are free and publicly available. However, certain identifying information is not included in the public dataset. This includes state, county, and zip code of residence; industry and occupation of employment; and links to Medicare claims records. These restricted fields can be obtained under restricted use agreements. The main requirements are that the researcher must justify why the restricted fields are necessary and must create a data protection plan to ensure security of the data. Data protection may involve keeping the data on a dedicated computer that is not linked to a network.
The Health and Retirement Study is a longitudinal survey of individuals close to retirement age. Questions focus on a wide range of topics related to health, wealth, employment, insurance, and family structure. The sample size is small (approximately 7500 individuals in the original cohort, with smaller cohorts added later), but the longitudinal aspect makes it possible to examine changes in individuals over time, making it especially powerful for some studies.
The first wave of respondents was originally surveyed in 1992 and again every two years after that. This group was made up of individuals between the ages of 51 and 61. In 1993, an additional cohort of individuals over the age of 70 was added. This cohort is also referred to as the Asset and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old (AHEAD) study. In 1998, the Children of the Depression (CODA) and War Baby (WB) cohorts were added. These cohorts were much smaller than the original, consisting of about 2500 individual respondents.
The HRS contains very detailed information on health and wealth. Specific health questions focus on heart disease, cancer, lung disease, stroke, and diabetes. There are also questions on the respondent's ability to engage in activities of daily living. The wealth section asks about income from various sources, money in savings accounts, house values, retirement accounts, etc.
One useful aspect of the HRS is the section on expectations. Starting in the first year of the survey, respondents were asked about the likelihood of certain events, such as living to age 65 or loaning money to a family member. In the case of the health-related questions, it is then possible to use data from later waves of the survey to determine the accuracy of the individual's expectations.
The RAND corporation has created versions of the original survey data that are easier to use than the raw data. In particular, they have renamed variables to be consistent across years and imputed wealth, income, and medical expenditures. Further information can be found here. Researchers should be aware that inconsistencies in these variables remain, even in the RAND data.
HRS data have been used in numerous studies in the social sciences.
Institute for Social Research
Data can be found at the HRS website. Additionally, researchers in Kellogg's Center for Health Industry Market Economics are working with several of the HRS modules. For assistance, please contact Andrew Sfekas in CHIME.
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