David Bell and Elaine Douglas went to the launch of the seventh wave of the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageings on October 13th. HAGIS is yet to have its first full wave, so we are well behind England! Even so, ELSA is a youngster compared with the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) which began back in 1992 and has surveyed a group of Americans aged 50+ every two years since then.
The launch report focussed mainly on employment, retirement and health. These are also vital issues for Scotland – particularly with the new tax and welfare powers coming to the Scottish Parliament. The ELSA results showed that the poor and the wealthy are likely to retire early, with middle-income earners waiting longer before they retire. If repeated in Scotland, this would have important implications for Scotland’s income tax receipts.
The report also showed how income and wealth are associated with the length of time people can expect to live free of disability or serious illness. At age 50, the wealthiest 33% of England’s population can expect to spend more than 76% of the rest of their life free from illness and over 90% of the rest of their life free from disability. In contrast, the poorest 33% will be 58% free from illness and 85% free from disability over the rest of their life.
These are fairly dry statistics. But Scotland will soon control a £2.7bn budget for welfare benefits. Most of this money will be used to support disabled people. So it is important that we know the equivalent figures for Scotland. One obvious way to do this is to increase the number of older people in the HAGIS sample. The seventh wave of ELSA surveyed 9700 people aged 50+.
Many of the other longitudinal surveys of ageing attended the ELSA launch. These included the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Brazil, India and Korea. We heard about their future plans and research. For example, some great work in the Republic of Ireland has traced how changes in blood pressure affect older people’s susceptibility to falls.
The principal investigator of the European longitudinal survey of ageing (SHARE) was also at the meeting. SHARE is a massive undertaking that now covers 28 European countries (and Israel). It was interesting to learn from him that SHARE has been chosen to lead the first survey of Syrian migrants in Germany. The applications of these surveys are many and varied!
Given the importance of the US National Institute of Aging in funding these studies, it was not surprising that a number of Americans researchers also travelled to London. They were very interested in HAGIS and particularly impressed by its potential for linking data from the survey to administrative data – particularly health and social care.
This linkage is very important both because it means that researchers don’t have to rely on people’s recollection of what has happened to them. It is also much cheaper to consult health records than to carry out a health assessment which would require a nurse visit.
This has a really worthwhile meeting: it helped us to publicise HAGIS and to understand where it sits in the international network of longitudinal studies. Soon, we should be able to share the results from the HAGIS pilot with our international research colleagues!