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Gateway To Global Aging Data: User Survey Results

Written by: Jenny Wilkens

Published on: Sep 02, 2020

#Aging-Research #Data-Harmonization

As some of you may know, the Gateway to Global Aging Data recently conducted a survey of our users, asking them about their experience with our website and data products. While each HRS sister study is conducted independently (for a brief description, check here), each offering a wealth of information about middle-aged and older individuals in their respective countries, the Gateway to Global Aging Data serves a unique purpose within this family of surveys. It is our goal to make it as easy as possible for our users to conduct cross-sectional, cross-national, and longitudinal analyses using these surveys by providing a single website where you can search the questionnaires, learn about differences between surveys and waves, access harmonized datasets, and more.

We are thrilled that nearly 70% of you are coming to the Gateway for information about the HRS Family of Surveys, and about 50% of you are checking out the survey questionnaires, our documentation, and using our Harmonized data. Nearly 31% of those who responded have used our data or resources for research purposes, and 30% among them published the work in an academic journal or published book. Even more exciting, over 65% are planning to conduct analyses in the future and 85-95% will use Harmonized data or the information provided on the Gateway. Most of you are interested in conducting longitudinal and/or cross-national analyses, which is where the Gateway really shines. Our concordance tables and working paper series on cross-country comparability make it easier to find what measures are comparable and how to best compare them, and the Harmonized datasets have variables built to be as comparable as possible across surveys and over time, while faithfully representing what is actually asked in the surveys. It’s fantastic for us to know that all of our hard work is getting put to good use!

Even with all of this positive feedback, the Gateway is always striving to grow and to be even more user-friendly. Our small team takes great pride in the work that we do, and even though 95% of respondents think the Gateway is extremely or very useful for the aging research community, we want to do even better. While it would be nearly impossible to provide harmonized variables for all of the questions the surveys ask, we want to provide the ones that are most useful to you. For those of you who suggested new variables to construct, we have great news - we’re currently in the middle of expanding our harmonized datasets to include things like vision, sleep, pain, falls, physical functioning, informal and formal caregiving, adverse childhood experiences, discrimination and other stressors, and psychosocial variables. We have also been creating life history and end of life data files that, together with the core interviews, provide data from a respondent’s entire lifespan. For those who suggested other topics, if they’re asked in the HRS Family of surveys, we’ll put serious consideration into adding those too.

We have also learned that one area where the Gateway can grow is by making our website easier to navigate. Twenty percent of respondents found what they were looking for but had difficulty finding it, and 10% were unsure how to use what the Gateway offers. In your suggestions for webinar topics and for the Gateway in general, it has become obvious that we need to provide clearer instructions for using the website, accessing Harmonized data, and conducting analyses. We are taking these criticisms seriously, and we’re going to work on finding ways to improve your experience. We do offer past webinars on our website (with video, slides, and Stata code) that show how to use our website, how to find comparable measures, and how to conduct cross-national or longitudinal analyses with weights. We’ll continue offering new webinars and we’re going to expand our documentation to include more and clearer instructions for all things Gateway. We’ll also be launching a new series of blogs – “Get to Know the Gateway” – which will eventually feature all of the tools the Gateway provides.

To all of our users out there, thank you for using the Gateway! And a special thank you to all of the individuals who took the time to complete our user survey – we can’t tell you how invaluable this information is to us. We’re going to keep doing what we do, and improving where we can, and we hope you’ll keep coming back and using everything we have to offer. And if you ever have suggestions or questions, don’t forget that the help desk ( is always there for you!

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