Study Introduction: English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA)
Written by: Jenny Wilkens
Published on: Dec 16, 2021
The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) is a nationally representative, longitudinal household survey for the study of health, economic position, and quality of life among the elderly in England. It surveys individuals aged 50 and over and their partners, regardless of age, living in private households in England. It was modeled after the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to allow for cross-country comparisons using these data.
The initial sample was recruited in 2002 and 2003 from households that had previously participated in the Health Survey for England (HSE) in 1998, 1999, and 2001. Follow-up waves have been conducted biennially with interviews starting in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018, and have followed respondents into institutions when applicable. The ELSA has been refreshed with newly age eligible respondents drawn from the HSE in the 2006, 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2018 Waves.
The survey elicits a wealth of information from their participants, including demographics, income, assets, health, cognition, family structure and connections, health care use and costs, housing, job status and history, expectations, and insurance. ELSA also collects additional information using a self-completion survey at each wave, including special health and work surveys at Wave 3 (2006), and sexual activity and relationship surveys at Waves 6 and 8 (2012 and 2016). Furthermore, ELSA conducts nurse assessments for the full samples in Waves 2, 4, and 6 (2004, 2008, 2012), and for 50% of the sample each in Waves 8 and 9 (2016 and 2018), in which the respondent’s performance in certain tasks and physical measurements were assessed, and blood was taken for biomarker evaluation.
In addition, ELSA has collected information on topics outside of these core interviews. A life history interview was conducted on a subset of the ELSA sample after Wave 3, which collected retrospective information on many aspects of the respondent’s life starting in childhood. End of life interviews have also been conducted during Waves 2, 3, 4, and 6, in which a knowledgeable representative of the deceased respondent provides information on the respondent’s life between their last core interview and their death. Most recently, ELSA has conducted two waves of COVID-19 interviews in 2020, the first in June and July and the second in November and December. These ELSA sub-studies cover the respondent’s and their family’s experience with COVID-19, as well as many other facets of life that the pandemic impacted.
The immense volume of information collected by ELSA over the last two decades can overwhelm even experienced researchers. In order to make the data easier to use and to enable comparability with other HRS family surveys, the Gateway to Global Aging Data has released Harmonized datasets for the core interviews, life history interview, and end of life interviews. While these datasets do not have variables capturing all of the information collected, they contain some of the most commonly used and most comparable variables across waves and surveys. The Gateway updates these datasets as new waves are released, and is working on creating a Harmonized version of the COVID-19 data as well. The datasets are available through download at the UK Data Service, and the codebooks are also available on the Get Data page under Harmonized Data. Moreover, ELSA offers linkages to data through the Office for National Statistics, Hospital Episode Statistics, Public Health England, National Insurance Records, and the Department of Work and Pensions.
The ELSA truly enables research throughout the life course and can serve as a fantastic resource for your next project.
- Jenny Wilkens is a Senior Programmer at the University of Southern California.