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Gateway to Global Aging Data: 2021 User Survey Results

Written by: Jenny Wilkens

Published on: Feb 17, 2022

#Aging-Research #Data-Harmonization

Hello, Gateway Users! It’s survey results time again. For those of you who took the time to complete our recent survey, thank you so much! Your insight is invaluable to us as we plan the next steps for the Gateway to Global Aging Data. For those of you who didn’t respond, three randomly selected people who complete the survey have the opportunity to win an Amazon gift card, and next time, that could be you!

Let me start by clarifying the Gateway to Global Aging Data’s relationship with the International Network of Health and Retirement Studies. After the success of the Health and Retirement Study in the US, a growing number of studies have been established in more than 47 countries throughout the world with the general intentions of collecting similar data every 2-3 years from a nationally-representative sample of that country’s older adults (for more information, check out this blog). These largely comparable surveys collecting data all over the world offer an incredible opportunity to conduct cross-national research. However, the longitudinal nature of these surveys and the wide array of subject matter can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it enables longitudinal research over years or even throughout the life course on a huge number of possible topics; on the other hand, the sheer volume of data and information available over time can be overwhelming for just one of these studies, let alone if you want to look into several of them for a cross-national analysis.

This is where the Gateway steps in. We focus on the HRS Family of Surveys because they have been designed to be comparable from the start. We offer the questionnaires for each year or wave of each study, we provide resources to easily check differences in availability over time or across studies, and provide the links you need to register for and download that survey data. We also create Harmonized datasets, which include all waves of data and a large portion (but not all) of the information collected in these surveys, focusing on variables that can be created most comparably over time and across surveys and that are of interest to a wider audience of researchers, with some of these even available as interactive graphs on our website. Unfortunately, we are rarely able to directly distribute the survey data or the Harmonized datasets that we create and that is unlikely to change because of the strict rules that govern this data. But we have worked on providing instructions to make it as easy and straightforward to get this data as we can (see our Data Access Instructions).

Now back to the survey - it provided us with a ton of great news! The number of Gateway users utilizing the survey questionnaires has increased from 49% in 2020 to 65% in 2021, and the number using the interactive graphs and tables featuring Harmonized variables has increased from 16% to 26%. About 85% found what they wanted on our website and the same number found the website easy to use. Even more, nearly 75% of the responding users have either conducted or are currently conducting research using the HRS Family of Surveys and 85% of those used information or resources found on the Gateway and 67% used the Harmonized data we produce. This research has led to academic journal articles in 50% of those who have or are conducting research, conference abstracts in 41%, and currently unpublished research in 49%, each of these categories showing a 10-31% increase over last year’s survey results (The more you cite us, the easier it is for us to convince the NIA to keep doing what we’re doing and providing all these resources to you for free (see the first question). It’s obvious to us that all of the hard work we put into the Gateway is paying off!

Having said that, there is always room to improve and to continue to grow. For those who spent the time providing suggestions for improvement, thank you! We have already been working on several things that were suggested, including detailed survey information (check out our study overviews), updated concordance tables, using digital signatures in our data access application, and Harmonized COVID datasets. We have also already had plans to create Harmonized ELSI (Brazil) and Harmonized SPS (Chile), so keep a look out for those over the next few years. We also received some great suggestions that we’re going to work on, including a better introduction for first-time users, providing short tutorials, and workshops or trainings. While it is not in our purview to provide detailed suggestions for how to approach your research analyses, we are happy to provide more examples of how to use the data, including how to appropriately utilize weights, although some examples can already be found in our Advanced Webinars.

We also had several suggestions for things we already provide, which could have two possible meanings. First, you’re not aware of all of the variables we have added to our datasets or features we have added to our website. Do you know we send out data updates and other announcements by email? If you’re not receiving these emails, then you can go to your profile and check your preferences for receiving Data Alerts and Announcements, or follow us on social media (TwitterFacebook). You can also find newly available variables by searching our Harmonized variables or checking out our codebooks or blogs. Second, you’re making suggestions of things we provide because you’re having difficulty finding things on our website. We’re taking this concern very seriously and we’re thinking about the best way to organize all of the information we offer to streamline your search for information.

So, I want to thank all of you for using the Gateway and especially those of you who took the time to complete our survey. I also want to thank you in advance for your patience as we work on bringing these updates and advancements to our website. We are a relatively small team for all that we have accomplished and want to achieve, and it can take some time to figure out the best way to provide information to you, but rest assured that we are working on it and will bring it to you as soon as we can. In the meantime, keep using our website and reach out if you have any questions or suggestions.

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