A Practicum on the Health and Retirement Survey

Soc 895/Econ 867 at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor:

        Instructors:    Robert J. Willis (rjwillis@isr.umich.edu)
                        Albert I. Hermalin (alberth@umich.edu)
        Time/location:  Tuesdays, 3-5pm, 301 Lorch Hall
        Credits:        3

The Health and Retirement Survey (HRS) and AHEAD (Asset and Health Dynamics of the Oldest Old) are major multi-round panel surveys of representative samples of Americans born between 1931-41 (HRS) and before 1924 (AHEAD), which investigate in detail the health, income and assets, and labor force behavior of respondents and their spouses. The HRS collects data relevant to the analysis of labor force behavior, savings, intergenerational transfers, health and other issues facing households as they approach retirement, while AHEAD addresses issues involving the interrelationship between asset decumulation, changes in health, and help from family members during the post-retirement years. These data sets are designed to answer a number of complex issues that require prospective data to adequately sort out causal influences. For example, in both data sets there is a very strong positive correlation between health status and wealth. What are the causal factors underlying this correlation? Does it reflect the high monetary costs of maintaining ones health, the positive influence on earnings of good health, or the operation of some third factor? The data are highly relevant to the analysis of many current public policy issues concerning the elderly, including social security policy, medicare and medicaid, capital gains taxation, etc.

The goals of the practicum are to: 1) provide knowledge of the structure and purpose of the HRS; 2) provide access to the data, or to special extracts, with guidance on how to access and use; 3) provide examples from faculty and post-docs at Michigan on analyses undertaken; 4) maintain an ongoing seminar to help identify new research topics or potential research proposals and provide guidance on selecting topics and performing analyses.

The course is open to advanced students in economics, sociology, public policy, public health and other fields who want to obtain hands-on experience with this dataset. It is particularly appropriate for 3rd or 4th year students planning dissertations in the areas of health and aging, economics of health, social security and pensions, and related topics. Students are expected to participate regularly in seminar discussions and use the HRS/AHEAD data for a short paper on a policy or research issue, and a journal length paper or grant proposal.

Questions about the course may be sent to either instructor at the e-mail addresses shown above.