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Global Health and Aging

A Note About the Data Behind This Report

The findings highlighted throughout this booklet underscore the value of cross-national data for research and policy. International and multi-country data help governments and policymakers better understand the broader implications and consequences of aging, learn from the experiences in other countries, including those with different health care systems and at a different point along the aging and development continuum, and facilitate the crafting of appropriate policies, especially in the developing world.

Valuable new information is coming from nationally representative surveys, often panel studies that follow the same group of people as they age. The U.S. Health and Retirement Study (HRS), begun in 1990, has painted a detailed picture of older adults’ health, work, retirement, income and wealth, and family characteristics and intergenerational transfers. In recent years, other nations have used the HRS – a biennial survey of more than 20,000 Americans over age 50 – as a model for planning similar large-scale, longitudinal studies of their own populations. Several parallel studies have been established throughout the world, including in China, England, India, Ireland, Japan, Korea, and Mexico, with more planned in other countries such as Thailand and Brazil. In addition, coordinated multi- country panel studies are effectively building an infrastructure of comprehensive and comparable data on households and individuals to understand individual and societal aging. The Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) – involving 15 countries as of 2010 (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland) – and the World Health Organization (WHO) Study on global AGEing and adult health (SAGE) in six countries (China, Ghana, India, Mexico, Russian Federation, and South Africa) greatly expand the number of countries by which informative comparisons can be made of the impact of policies and interventions on trends in aging, health, and retirement. A key aspect of this new international community of researchers is that data are shared very soon after collected with all researchers in all countries.

Many other cross-national aging-related datasets and initiatives offer comparable demographic indicators that reveal historical trends and offer projections to help international organizations and governments, planners, and businesses make informed decisions. These sources include, for example, the International Database on Aging, involving 227 countries; the International Network for the Demographic Evaluation of Populations and Their Health (INDEPTH), involving 19 developing nations; the Human Mortality Database, involving 28 countries; and the 2006 Global Burden of Disease and Risk Factors initiative, which is strengthening the methodological and empirical basis for undertaking comparative assessments of health problems and their determinants and consequences in aging population worldwide.

Publication Date: October 2011
Page Last Updated: March 27, 2012