The health of older adults is influenced by many factors. Among them, social support and personal relationships remain some of the least understood. 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 on 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 three waves of NSHAP data available to researchers. NORC and the NSHAP investigative team at the University of Chicago conducted the first wave of NSHAP in 2005—2006, completing 3,005 interviews with a nationally representative sample of adults born between 1920 and 1947 aged 57 to 85 at the time of recruitment (Cohort 1 Wave 1 (C1W1)). In 2010—2011 (C1W2), nearly 3,400 interviews were completed with the C1W1 Respondents, Non-Interviewed Respondents (individuals who declined to participate in W1, but were approached again and agreed to participate in W2), and their spouses or cohabiting romantic partners. In 2015—2016 (C1W3), all surviving respondents were again interviewed and a new cohort of respondents born 1948–1965 during the Baby Boom was added along with their spouses/partners (C2W1), totaling 4,777 interviews.
Funding has been awarded for a fourth wave of data collection from the original NSHAP cohort (C1W4) and for a second wave of data from the Baby Boomer cohort (C2W2). In this additional wave of data collection for both cohorts, the return of respondents who participated in a previous wave(s) will improve the robustness of NSHAP’s longitudinal data by adding an additional time point as well as changes in trajectories of health across birth cohorts. As in previous waves this wave will allow examination of health and health transitions of respondents, and how they relate to different kinds of social relationships in respondents’ lives.
For all waves to date, data collection has included three measurements: in-home interviews, biomeasures, and leave-behind respondent-administered questionnaires (LBQ). Plans for the main study which is scheduled for 2021 are being finalized.
The COVID pandemic interrupted the five-year interval with which NSHAP respondents are surveyed, but a special COVID substudy was launched in September 2020. Data collection includes web surveys, phone interviews, and paper-and-pencil questionnaires.
An interim report of results is available here.
NSHAP Wave 1 used 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 included an oversampling of African-Americans and Hispanics. The NSHAP sample was 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. Of the persons selected for the NSHAP interview, 92% were eligible.
For Wave 2 in 2010 and 2011, NSHAP returned to C1W1 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 with the Wave 1 Respondent/Wave 1 Non-Interviewed Respondent in the same household at the time of the Wave 2 interview and were at least 18 years of age.
In 2015 and 2016, NSHAP Wave 3 re-interviewed the original cohort (C1) and their partners, including Wave 1 and 2 respondents as well as available Wave 1 respondents who did not participate in Wave 2. During the same field period, data were collected from a new cohort of community residing adults (C2, born between 1948 and 1965) and their partners to refresh the NSHAP sample.
Cohort 1 Wave 1
3,005 interviews were completed between July 2005 and March 2006.
Cohort 1 Wave 2
3,377 interviews were completed 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.
Cohort 1 Wave 3, and Cohort 2 Wave 1
4,777 interviews were completed between September 2015 and November 2016, including 2,409 Returning Respondents, and 2,368 New Cohort Respondents and partners.
Overall weighted response rate of 75.5 percent.
The overall unconditional response rate for the Wave 2 panel was 74%; the conditional response rate of Wave 1 respondents was 89%; the conditional response rate of partners was 84%; and the conversion rate for Wave 1 nonrespondents was 26%.
4,777 completed interviews between September 2015 and November 2016. These include Cohort 1 and Cohort 2 Respondents and Respondent Partners.
Data Collection Method
NSHAP data collection for all waves to date consists of three distinct components:
- In-person questionnaire
- Biomeasure collection
- Supplemental leave-behind, respondent-administered questionnaire (LBQ)
In addition, C1W2 and C1W3 included a supplemental proxy questionnaire for respondents who were either deceased or whose health was too poor to participate in subsequent Waves.
The in-person questionnaire and biomeasures were administered by an 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 and 3 in-person questionnaires remained relatively unchanged from the Wave 1 instrument.
NSHAP collects important health information via biomeasures. All biomeasures included in NSHAP are specifically designed to be implemented by non-medically trained interviewers. The data collection protocols are minimally invasive and safe for both interviewer and respondent. A summary of the biomeasures collected in Waves 1 and 2 of NSHAP appears in the table linked below. In-depth information on biomeasure collection changes from Wave 1 to Wave 2 can be found in the NSHAP Wave 2 Measurement Booklet.
For a Summary of the Biomeasure Collection and Physical Assessment across Waves 1 and 2, click
As a new feature of NSHAP at 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 Leave-Behind Respondent-Administered Questionnaire (LBQ)
At the end of the in-person interview, all respondents were given a supplemental paper-and-pencil questionnaire. Respondents were asked to complete this questionnaire and return it via USPS in a postage-paid envelope that was provided. Approximately 84 percent of respondents in Wave 1 and approximately 87 percent of respondents in Wave 2 returned the supplemental questionnaire.
Since mortality and incapacity are themselves important health outcomes, NSHAP employed a short proxy questionnaire in Waves 2 and 3 to collect final health data for Wave 1 and Wave 2 Respondents, respectively, 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 was collected for Wave 2 Respondents.
Average Length of Interview
The in-person interview for Waves 1 and 2 was approximately 120 minutes in length and included the in-person questionnaire and biomeasures. The supplemental LBQ took approximately 30 minutes or less to complete. The average in-person interview for Wave 3 was about 90 minutes in length.
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 Waves 1, 2, and 3 interviews are available to researchers through the National Archive of Computerized Data on Aging (NACDA), located within the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR).
NSHAP Wave 1
Waite, Linda J., Edward O. Laumann, Wendy Levinson, Stacy Tessler Lindau, and Colm A. O'Muircheartaigh. National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP): Wave 1. ICPSR20541-v6. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2014-04-30.
NSHAP Wave 2: Wave 1 Respondents and Partners
Waite, Linda J., Kathleen Cagney, William Dale, Elbert Huang, Edward O. Laumann, Martha McClintock, Colm A. O'Muircheartaigh, L. Phillip Schumm, and Benjamin Cornwell. National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP): Wave 2 and Partner Data Collection. ICPSR34921-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2014-04-29.
NSHAP Wave 3: Returning Respondents, New Cohort, and Partners
Waite, Linda J, Kathleen Cagney, William Dale, Louise Hawkley, Elbert Huang, Diane Lauderdale, Edward O. Laumann, Martha McClintock, Colm A. O’Muircheartaigh, and L. Phillip Schumm. National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSHAP): Wave 3. ICPSR36873-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2017-10-25.