HRS and AHEAD: Recent Developments Regarding Funding, Study Design, and Leadership


F. Thomas Juster, Research Scientist, Economic Behavior Program

Both the Health and Retirement study (HRS) and the Asset and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old survey (AHEAD) were site-visited in early December, 1994. Both got priority scores (percentile ranks) in the single digits (1 is great, 99 is terrible), which virtually guarantees full funding for both studies unless something catastrophic happens to the NIA budget. The NIA Council acted on both projects at their February meeting, and both were approved with recommended funding at the originally proposed budget levels. The five year total budget request for HRS was roughly $17.5 million; for AHEAD it was roughly $11.0 million.

Both HRS and AHEAD study staffs deserve congratulations on a job well done -- the discussion and the site visitors were fully persuaded that the staff vision about both projects -- that they should evolve toward a permanent panel of the population 50 years of age and older, with new cohorts added periodically at the bottom end to maintain the cross-sectional representativeness of the panel -- is the right vision. We believe that the HRS and AHEAD studies can probably be structured to produce that long-term outcome at about the resource levels requested in the current funding cycle.

The organizational structure of HRS and AHEAD will change slightly as both projects enter their second five-year funding cycle. Although the two projects are technically independent, in that they represent separate submissions and were given separate evaluations, they will be closely joined by virtue of a common planning process and the recognition that measures should be kept common to the maximum possible degree in order to maintain compatibility over time as households move from the HRS age range to the AHEAD age range. The original structure had been separate, and in principle independent, planning processes.

Finally, plans for the leadership transition of both studies are now complete. Robert Willis, Professor of Education and Public Policy at the University of Chicago and Director of the Economic Research Center at NORC, will be coming to the University of Michigan with a joint appointment in Economics and ISR this coming September. Bob has served on both the HRS and AHEAD Steering Committees since the inception of both projects. Willis and I will be Co-PIs on both HRS and AHEAD over the period September, 1995 through the middle of 1996, when present plans call for me to retire from full-time work activity, probably continuing something like a quarter- or third-time work schedule but turning project direction over to Willis.

(The above text originally appeared in Center Survey, a staff newsletter of the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.)