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. In addition to the NSHAP investigative team, the NSHAP Fellows Program provides training and support to promising health and aging scholars committed to the development and dissemination of NSHAP. Fellows are nominated and selected by the investigative team to participate in a two-year term. Five former NSHAP Fellows are now part of the first cohort of NSHAP Fellow Alumni.
To date there are three rounds of NSHAP data available to researchers with a fourth round to be conducted in 2021-22.
Round 1 (R1), conducted in 2005-06, included interviews with a nationally representative sample of 3,005 adults born between 1920 and 1947 aged 57 to 85 at the time of recruitment. This first set of Respondents is collectively referred to as Round 1 (R1) which includes Cohort 1 Wave 1 (C1W1)
Round 2 (R2), conducted in 2010-11, included interviews with:
- C1W1 Respondents
- Non-Interviewed Respondents (individuals who declined to participate in W1, but were approached again and agreed to participate in W2)
- Cohabiting spouses/romantic partners
This totaled nearly 3,400 interviews with Respondents collectively referred to as Round 2 (R2) Cohort 1 Wave 2 (C1W2).
Round 3 (R3), conducted in 2015-16, included interviews with:
- All surviving Respondents (Cohort 1 Wave 3 [C1W3])
- A new cohort of Respondents born 1948–1965 during the Baby Boom, with their spouses/partners (Cohort 2 Wave 1 [C2W1])
This totaled 4,777 interviews with Respondents collectively referred to as R3 which includes both C1W3 and C2W1.
Round 4 (R4), to be conducted in 2021-22, will include a fourth wave of data collection from the original NSHAP cohort (C1W4) and a second wave of data collection from the Baby Boomer cohort (C2W2). In this round of data collection for both cohorts, the return of Respondents who participated in a previous round will improve the robustness of NSHAP’s longitudinal data by adding an additional time point. It will also include changes in health trajectories across birth cohorts (C1 and C2). Round 4 will facilitate further examination of health and health transitions of Respondents, and how they relate to different kinds of social relationships in Respondents’ lives.
For all rounds to date, data collection has included three measurements: in-home interviews, biomeasures, and a Leave-Behind Questionnaire. R4 (2021-22) data collection is currently underway.
The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the five-year interval with which NSHAP Respondents are surveyed, but a special COVID-19 substudy was conducted between September 14, 2020 and January 27, 2021. Data were collected via web surveys, phone interviews, and paper-and-pencil questionnaires. Data and questionnaires will be made publicly available through the National Archive of Computerized Data on Aging (NACDA) within the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR).
A Summary of NSHAP Longitudinal Data Collection is available here.
An interim report of results is available here.
NSHAP R1 used a national area probability sample of community residing adults born between 1920 and 1947 (aged 57 to 85 at the time of the R1 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 R2 in 2010-11, 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. 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 2015-16, NSHAP R3 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. C2 was built by selecting a probability sample of households to generate a nationally representative sample of adults aged 50–67 in 2015, together with their cohabiting romantic partners (independent of age-eligibility).
Round 1 (Cohort 1 Wave 1)
3,005 interviews were completed between July 2005 and March 2006.
Round 2 (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.
Round 3 (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.
Round 4 (Cohort 1 Wave 4 and Cohort 2 Wave 2)
Overall weighted response rate of 75.5%.
The overall unconditional response rate for the Round 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 non-Respondents was 26%.
4,777 completed interviews between September 2015 and November 2016 which include Cohort 1 and Cohort 2 Respondents and Respondent Partners. For C1W3, the interview yield rate which takes into account both survival and response rates was 69% (which surpassed estimates by 4%). For C2W1, the interview completion rate was 76%.
Data Collection Method
NSHAP data collection for all Rounds to date consists of three distinct components:
- In-Person Questionnaire (IPQ)
- Biomeasure collection
- Leave-Behind Questionnaire (LBQ)
In-Person Questionnaire (IPQ)
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 Round 2 and 3 IPQs remained relatively unchanged from the Round 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 Rounds 1 and 2 of NSHAP appears in the table linked below.
For a Summary of the Biomeasure Collection and Physical Assessment across Rounds 1 and 2, click here.
As a new feature of NSHAP at R2, 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.
Leave-Behind 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% of Respondents in Round 1 and approximately 87% of Respondents in Round 2 returned the supplemental questionnaire. The return rates for the LBQ in Round 3 were approximately 85% overall, with 91% for Cohort 1 and 80% for Cohort 2 Respondents.
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 rounds. These were completed by a family member or a close contact of the Respondent.
Average Length of Interview
The in-person interview, consisting of both the In-Person Questionnaire and the collection of biomeasures, took approximately 120 minutes for Rounds 1 and 2 and approximately 90 minutes in Round 3. The Leave-Behind Questionnaire 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 Rounds 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).