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Study Description

Description: The University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study (HRS) is a longitudinal survey of a representative sample of Americans over the age of 50. Supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA U01AG009740) and the Social Security Administration, the HRS is designed to provide reliable data on the decisions, choices, and behaviors of people as they age and respond to changes in public policy, the economy, and health.

The study obtains information every two years about income and wealth, health and use of health services, work and retirement, and family connections. Through its unique and in-depth interviews, the HRS provides an invaluable and growing body of multidisciplinary data that researchers can use to address important questions about the challenges and opportunities of aging. Because of its innovation and importance, the HRS has become the model and hub for a growing network of harmonized longitudinal aging studies around the world.

Origins of the HRS. As the population ages it is increasingly important to obtain reliable data about aging and topics that are relevant to a range of policy issues in aging. To address this need, the National Institutes on Aging (NIA) established a cooperative agreement with the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research to collect such data. The HRS launched data collection in 1992 and has re-interviewed the original sample of respondents every two years since then. By adding new cohorts and refreshing the sample, the HRS has grown to become the largest, most representative longitudinal panel study of Americans 50 years and older.

HRS Study Design. The target population for the original HRS cohort includes all adults in the contiguous United States born during the years 1931-1941 who reside in households, with a 2:1 oversample of African-American and Hispanic populations. The original sample is refreshed with new birth cohorts (51-56 years of age) every six years. The sample has been expanded over the years to include a broader range of birth cohorts as well. The target population for the AHEAD survey consists of United States household residents who were born in 1923 or earlier. Children of the Depression (CODA) recruits households born 1924-1930, Warbabies 1942-47, Early Boomers 1948-53, and Mid-Boomers 1954-59. The current sample is over 26,000 persons in 17,000 households.

Data collection includes a mixed mode design combining in-person, telephone, mail, and Internet. For consenting respondents, HRS data is linked at the individual level to administrative records from Social Security and Medicare claims.

Genetic Research in the HRS. The HRS is now genotyping 2.5 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) on respondents using Illumina's Human Omni2.5-Quad (Omni2.5) BeadChip methodology. The genotyping is being performed by the NIH Center for Inherited Disease Research (CIDR). Saliva was collected on half of the HRS sample each wave starting in 2006. In 2006, saliva was collected using a mouthwash collection method. In 2008, the data collection method switched to the Oragene kit. Saliva completion rates were 83% in 2006 and 84% in 2008. Based on prior rates of consent and completion, we expect an additional 6,000 Oragene samples to be added by 2012, including a substantial expansion of the minority sample.

HRS Phenotypic data. Phenotypic data are available on a variety of dimensions. Health measures include physical/psychological self-report, various health conditions, disabilities; cognitive performance; health behaviors (smoking, drinking, exercise), physical performance and anthropomorphic measures, and biomarkers (HbA1c, Total Cholesterol, HDL, CRP, Cystatin-C). Data are also available on health services including utilization, insurance and out-of-pocket spending with linkage to Medicare records. Economic measures include employment status/history, earnings, disability, retirement, type of work, income by source, wealth by asset type, capital gains/debt, consumption, linkage to pensions, Social Security earnings/benefit histories. There is also extensive information on family structure, proximity, transfers to/from of money, time, social and psychological characteristics, as well as a wide range of demographics.

Performance on a cognitive test combining immediate and delayed word recall was selected as an example trait for the dbGaP data release. In the immediate word recall task the interviewer reads a list of 10 nouns to the respondent and asks the respondent to recall as many words as possible from the list in any order. After approximately five minutes of asking other survey questions, the respondent is asked to recall the nouns previously presented as part of the immediate recall task. The total recall score is the sum of the correct answers to these two tasks, with a range of 0 to 20.

Researchers who wish to link to other HRS measures not in dbGaP will be able to apply for access from HRS. A separate Data Use Agreement (DUA) will be required for linkage to the HRS data. See the HRS website ( for details.

  • Study Weblink: HRS
  • Study Type: Longitudinal
  • dbGaP estimated ancestry components using GRAF-pop
  • Number of study subjects that have individual level data available through Authorized Access: 12507

Authorized Access
Publicly Available Data (Public ftp)

Connect to the public download site. The site contains release notes and manifests. If available, the site also contains data dictionaries, variable summaries, documents, and truncated analyses.

Study Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria

Sample Selection for the Enhanced Face-to-Face Interview
A random one-half of the 2006 sample was pre-selected to complete an enhanced face-to-face interview, which included a set of physical performance tests, anthropometric measurements, blood and saliva samples, and a psychosocial self-administered questionnaire in addition to the core HRS interview. The sample was selected at the household-level to ensure that the same request was made to both members of a household. New spouses of respondents flagged to complete an enhanced face-to-face interview were also asked to do so.

Approximately fifty percent of households with at least one living respondent were selected for the enhanced face-to-face interview across all primary sampling units (PSUs). Some respondents who were selected for the enhanced face-to-face sample were not asked to complete the physical measures or biomarkers. This group included respondents who a) needed to be interviewed by proxy, b) resided in a nursing home, or c) declined a face-to-face interview but agreed to be interviewed by telephone.

In 2008, an enhanced face-to-face interview was conducted on the remaining half of the sample.

Consent Procedures
Prior to saliva collection, a consent form was administered by the interviewer. Respondents were asked to read and sign the form. Respondents who did not sign the consent form were not asked to complete the collection. After obtaining consent, the interviewer described the collection procedure to the respondent. Respondents were instructed not to eat, drink, smoke, chew gum or brush their teeth during this component of the interview.

Molecular Data
TypeSourcePlatformNumber of Oligos/SNPsSNP Batch IdComment
Whole Genome Genotyping Illumina HumanOmni2.5 2443179 N/A
Study History

A description of the HRS Survey Design can be found at:

Introduction to the HRS and the HRS website:

Selected publications
Diseases/Traits Related to Study (MESH terms)
Authorized Data Access Requests
Study Attribution