National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP)


The health of older adults is influenced by many factors. One of the least understood is the role that social support and personal relationships play in health and aging. The National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP) is a longitudinal, population-based study of health and social factors, aiming to understand the well-being of older, community-dwelling Americans by examining the interactions among physical health and illness, medication use, cognitive function, emotional health, sensory function, health behaviors, social connectedness, sexuality, and relationship quality. NSHAP provides policy makers, health providers, and individuals with useful information and insights into these factors, particularly on social and intimate relationships. The study contributes to finding new ways to improve health as people age.
To date there are two waves of NSHAP data available to researchers, and funding has now been awarded for a third wave of data collection. In 2005 and 2006, NORC and Principal Investigators at the University of Chicago conducted the first wave of NSHAP, completing more than 3,000 interviews with a nationally representative sample of adults aged 57 to 85. In 2010 and 2011, nearly 3,400 interviews were completed for Wave 2 with these Wave 1 Respondents, Wave 1 Non-Interviewed Respondents, and their spouses or cohabiting romantic partners. The second wave of NSHAP is essential to understanding how social and biological characteristics change. In 2015 and 2016, NSHAP projects nearly 2,500 interviews to be completed for Wave 3. By eliciting a variety of information from respondents over time, NSHAP provides data that will allow researchers in a number of fields to examine how specific factors may or may not affect each other across the life course.

For all waves, data collection includes/will include three measurements: in-home interviews, biomeasures, and leave-behind respondent-administered questionnaires. The face-to-face interviews and biomeasure collection take place in respondents' homes.


Sample Type

NSHAP uses a national area probability sample of community residing adults born between 1920 and 1947 (aged 57 to 85 at the time of the Wave 1 interview), which includes an oversampling of African-Americans and Hispanics. The NSHAP sample is built on the foundation of the national household screening carried out by the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) in 2004. Through a collaborative agreement, HRS identified households for the NSHAP eligible population. A sample of 4,400 people was selected from the screened households. NSHAP made one selection per household. Ninety-two percent of the persons selected for the NSHAP interview were eligible.
For Wave 2 in 2010 and 2011, NSHAP returned to Wave 1 Respondents and eligible non-interviewed respondents from Wave 1 (Wave 1 Non-Interviewed Respondents). NSHAP also extended the Wave 2 sample to include the cohabiting spouses and romantic partners of Wave 1 Respondents and Wave 1 Non-Interviewed Respondents. Partners were considered to be eligible to participate in NSHAP if they resided in the household with the Wave 1 Respondent/Wave 1 Non-Interviewed Respondent at the time of the Wave 2 interview and were at least 18 years of age.
In Wave 3, in addition to the Wave 2 respondents being re-interviewed, NSHAP will approach Wave 1 respondents who decided not to participate in Wave 2. Also taking into account the higher than average mortality rate of the NSHAP eligible population, the projected number of interviews for Wave 3 is 2,352.

Completed Interviews

Wave 1
3,005 completed interviews conducted between July, 2005 and March, 2006.
Wave 2
3,377 completed interviews conducted between August, 2010 and May, 2011, including 2,261 Wave 1 Respondent interviews, 161 Wave 1 Non-Interviewed Respondent interviews, 907 Wave 1 Respondent Partner interviews, and 48 Wave 1 Non-Interviewed Respondent Partner interviews.

Response Rate

Wave 1
Overall weighted response rate of 75.5 percent
Wave 2
Overall weighted response rate of 76.9 percent. By sample type: Wave 1 Respondent weighted response rate of 87.8 percent; Wave 1 Non-Interviewed Respondent weighted response rate of 23.1 percent; Wave 1 Respondent Partner weighted response rate of 85.8 percent; Wave 1 Non-Interviewed Respondent Partner weighted response rate of 63.9 percent.

Data Collection Method

NSHAP data collection for both waves consists of three distinct components:
  • In-person questionnaire
  • Biomeasure collection
  • Supplemental self-administered questionnaire (SAQ)
In addition, Wave 2 included a supplemental proxy questionnaire for Wave 1 Respondents who were either deceased or whose health was too poor to participate in Wave 2. The same will be true for Wave 3.
In-Person Questionnaire
The in-person questionnaire and biomeasures were administered by a NORC field interviewer in the respondent’s home. Questionnaire topics included: 1) demographic characteristics; 2) social networks and social network change; 3) social and cultural activity; 4) physical and mental health including cognition; 5) well-being; 6) illness; 7) healthcare utilization and medications; and 8) history of sexual and intimate partnerships. Given the longitudinal goals of NSHAP, most of the Wave 2 in-person questionnaire remained relatively unchanged from the Wave 1 instrument.
Biomeasure Collection
NSHAP continues to collect important health information via biomeasures. All biomeasures included in NSHAP were specifically designed to be implemented by non-medically trained interviewers. The data collection protocols were minimally invasive and safe for both interviewer and respondent.  A summary of the biomeasures collected in both waves of NSHAP appears in the table linked below. In-depth information on biomeasure collection changes for Wave 2 will be found in the NSHAP Wave 2 Measurement Booklet.
For a Summary of the Biomeasure Collection and Physical Assessment across Waves, click here.

As a new addition to Wave 2, select respondents were asked to participate in a multi-modal, at-home self-administered biomeasure collection called Actigraphy. Actigraphy is a minimally-invasive method used to measure sleep and activity cycles.
Supplemental Self-Administered Questionnaire
At the end of the in-person interview, respondents were given a supplemental paper-and-pencil questionnaire. Respondents were asked to complete this questionnaire and return it via U.S. mail in a provided postage-paid envelope. Approximately 84 percent of respondents in Wave 1 and approximately 87 percent of respondents in Wave 2 returned the supplemental questionnaire.
Proxy Questionnaire 


Since mortality and incapacity are themselves important health outcomes, NSHAP employed a short proxy questionnaire in Wave 2 to collect final health data for Wave 1 Respondents who could not participate in NSHAP due to disability or death. Final health data was collected on 566 Wave 1 Respondents using the Proxy interview, and in Wave 3, final health data will be collected for Wave 2 Respondents.

Average Length of Interview

The in-person interview was about 120 minutes in length and includes the in-person questionnaire and biomeasures. The supplemental SAQ took approximately 30 minutes or less to complete.


Accessing NSHAP Data

NSHAP is dedicated to maintaining the trust of respondents and is diligent in protecting respondent confidentiality while providing data accessible to the public for research. NSHAP data made available to the public does not contain any identifiable respondent information and uses code numbers instead of names for all data. De-identified data from the Wave 1 and Wave 2 interviews are available to researchers through the National Archive of Computerized Data on Aging, located within Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR).

Learn more about obtaining NSHAP data at ICPSR
View available data elements and read more about the study here.  

NSHAP Sponsor

NSHAP is supported by the National Institutes of Health (R01-AG021487), (R37-AG030481), and (R01-AG033903) including:


  • National Institute on Aging
  • Office of Research on Women's Health
  • Office of AIDS Research

Additional financial support was provided by NORC.


News CBS News: The intimate lives of Americans over 50, according to NSHAP data More
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News The Huffington Post: The love lives of older Americans according to NSHAP research and findings More
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News Woman's Day: NSHAP data shows how a bad relationship could literally break one's heart More
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News Forbes: NSHAP findings show the link between sense of smell and health More
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News UChicago News: Senior Fellow Linda Waite discusses sleep issues affecting older adults, and NSHAP research More
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NSHAP Respondents

Has NORC contacted you to respond to the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project survey? Call toll-free:

1 (866) 309-0540 (English)

1 (866) 291-2955 (Spanish)

Project Director

Katie O'Doherty

(312) 759-4060

Principal Investigator

Linda Waite

(773) 256-6333

Current Investigative Team

Linda J. Waite, Ph.D.

Kathleen A. Cagney, Ph.D.

William Dale, M.D., Ph.D.

Elbert Huang, MD

Edward Laumann, Ph.D.

Martha McClintock, Ph.D.

Colm O'Muircheartaigh, Ph.D.

Phil Schumm, M.A.​

Louise Hawkley, Ph.D.

Diane Lauderdale, Ph.D.

Senior Staff

Kathleen Cagney

Kathleen Cagney
Senior Fellow and Director

Sara A. Leitsch

Sara Henning
Senior Research Scientist

Colm O'Muircheartaeigh

Colm O'Muircheartaigh
Senior Fellow and Co-Principal Investigator

Linda Waite

Linda Waite
Senior Fellow and Director

Eric C. Hedberg
Senior Research Scientist

See all National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP) experts