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Study Description

Introduction to V2: This data release comprises data from the V1 release combined with approximately 3,000 additional samples, collected during the HRS 2010 field period. The 2010 data include samples from a random half of the new cohort enrolled in 2010 along with a significant expansion of the minority sample.

Description: The University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study (HRS) is a longitudinal panel study that surveys a representative sample of approximately 20,000 people in America over the age of 50 every two years. Supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA U01AG009740) and the Social Security Administration, the HRS explores the changes in labor force participation and the health transitions that individuals undergo toward the end of their work lives and in the years that follow.

The study collects information about income, work, assets, pension plans, health insurance, disability, physical health and functioning, cognitive functioning, and health care expenditures. 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, War Babies 1942-47, Early Boomers 1948-53, and Mid-Boomers 1954-59.

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

Genetic Research in the HRS. The HRS has genotyped 2.5 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) on respondents using Illumina's Human Omni2.5-Quad (Omni2.5) BeadChip. The genotyping was 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. From 2008 onward, the data collection method switched to the Oragene kit. Saliva completion rates were 83% in 2006, 84% in 2008, and 80% in 2010 among new cohort enrollees.

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 (http://hrsonline.isr.umich.edu/gwas) for details.

Authorized Access
Publicly Available Data (Public ftp)

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

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. 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.

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.

In 2008, an enhanced face-to-face interview was conducted on the remaining half of the sample. In 2010, a random half of the new cohort, consisting of the Mid-Boomer cohort and an additional minority oversample of Early- and Mid-Boomers, was selected for an enhanced face-to-face interview and saliva collection. The 2010 data consists of samples from these groups as well as a small proportion from respondents who originally refused to contribute a sample in the 2006 wave but consented when re-asked in 2010.

Consent Procedures

Prior to saliva collection, a consent form is administered by the interviewer. Respondents are asked to read and sign the form. Respondents who do not sign the consent form are not asked to complete the collection. After obtaining consent, the interviewer describes the collection procedure to the respondent. Respondents are 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

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)
Links to Related Resources
Authorized Data Access Requests
Study Attribution