Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

The Health and Retirement Study: The New Retirement Survey

Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

The Health and Retirement Study: The New Retirement Survey

Article excerpt

In 1969, the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Office of Research and Statistics (ORS) began a large panel survey of persons nearing retirement age. That survey, the Retirement History Study (RHS), interviewed biennially for a decade. The RHS has been the primary source of information since the 1970's on the retirement process and on changes in health and economic status associated with the transition from work to retirement (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1987). For some time, however, there has been a need for more current information. To meet this need, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) is sponsoring the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which began interviewing in 1992.

This note provides an introduction to the HRS, describes the support that SSA is providing on the project, and notes some HRS design features that make it especially valuable to SSA. References to the growing body of information on and early results from the study are also provided. For a more complete HRS overview, see Juster and Suzman (1995). They describe the background, the decision to develop a new retirement survey, key features of the design and content, and early developments in the study.

HRS Sponsorship, Sample, and Study Design

The new retirement survey is a longitudinal study of persons in the 1931-41 birth cohorts as they enter their retirement years. As noted, the NIA is the sponsor, and the study is being conducted under a cooperative agreement with the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research (ISR). Professors Thomas Juster and Robert Willis are co-principal investigators for the study. The SSA is providing financial assistance (and data, as discussed below); the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration at the Department of Labor have also provided financial assistance.

Baseline data were collected in 1992 from personal interviews with 12,652 persons (sample persons aged 51-61 and their spouses of any age). In 1994, a second interview was conducted using computer-assisted telephone techniques, and about 11,340 respondents were successfully interviewed. Further biennial interviews are planned. No final decision has been made about how long to follow the sample longitudinally, but under emerging longrange plans, the HRS cohorts would be followed until mortality overwhelms the sample.

For the nationally representative HRS sample, men and women were selected on the same terms and received the same questionnaire.1 Blacks, Hispanics, and Florida residents were oversampled. In addition to allowing more reliable analyses, minorities were oversampled because some of the factors that influence retirement decisions were thought to operate differently for Blacks than whites and because so little was known about such factors as they apply to Hispanics. Florida residents were oversampled because of Congressional interest in areas with "high densities and numbers of older populations" (Juster and Suzman 1995).

The survey content in the first interview included sections on demographics; physical health and functioning; housing and mobility; family structure; current job; past job; work history; disability; retirement plans; cognition and expectations; net worth; income; insurance; and widowhood. In the second and subsequent interviews, the focus is on measuring change in two dependent variables-labor supply and health status-and in the explanatory variables. Labor-market status is established on a month-by-month basis. Characteristics like income, assets, and some health items are remeasured. Other items, like marital status and family composition, are updated when a change is indicated.

Some needed information, however, cannot be collected accurately from respondents. For example, most retirement analysts see both employer-provided pensions and health insurance as key factors in retirement decisions and in future economic well-being. …

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