The content on ELSA is divided into modules which are included in the questionnaire in varying frequency, enabling tracking of patterns over time.
Click here to view an overview of the topics covered on ELSA waves 1 to 8.
You can also select modules in the list below to read more about their purpose and content. The individual questions included in each module on each wave can be viewed in the main and nurse questionnaire documentation (PDF) for each wave.
The purpose of the Household Demographics module is to keep up-to-date the information on demographics, family structure and relations.
Topics covered are:
This module is also used to identify which individuals are eligible for main ELSA interview, whether any interviews need to be done by proxy, and the appropriate member(s) to supply financial information
The Individual Demographics Module updates more detailed demographic information about each ELSA member. Information collected at previous waves (including HSE) is checked to see if still accurate and any changes recorded.
The details are:
This section is also used to identify relationship of proxy informant to respondent, where applicable.
The Health module concerns the respondent's state of health, functional limitations, and certain behavioural aspects of their daily life that are likely to influence health. In Wave 2 the nurse visit covers the biomedical aspects of health. ELSA has a particularly strong contribution in cardiovascular disease and physical function performance.
The main subsections are:
The self-reported mobility questions are complemented by a timed walking speed test for people aged 60 years and over at the time of the interview.
In Wave 2 the health section included questions about quality of care, based on indicators developed in the USA for assessing the care of vulnerable elders (ACOVE). Questions on quality of care were applied to incident cases with respect to cataracts, high blood pressure, angina, heart attack, diabetes, stroke, high cholesterol, osteoarthritis and psychiatric problems. There were also questions for those who experienced falls or balance problems and for those who reported symptoms of the following types: hearing difficulty, joint pain combined with osteoarthritis, chest pain, incontinence, depression. Finally some questions were asked about advice and help given to stop smoking. In Waves 3 and 4, the quality of care questions are restricted to a few high priority conditions.
In Wave 2 and Wave 4, the core members of ELSA were offered a nurse visit to obtain objective biological information and measures of physical functioning.
Measures previously assessed at HSE contact for 1998 and 2001 and repeated in Wave 2 are: blood pressure, lung function, anthropometric measures (height, weight, waist, hip), haemoglobin and ferritin, inflammatory markers of C-reactive protein and fibrinogen, lipids, fasting lipids, fasting glucose, and glycated haemoglobin.
Physical functioning is assessed using balance tests, timed chair stands, and grip strength. There are two separately funded components. The first involves measures of stress in the form of cortisol from saliva samples taken over one day and accompanied by a diary. The second involved extraction of DNA for a genetic repository. In Wave 2, all members taking part in the nurse visit were asked for these extra measures; in wave 4, newly recruited members are asked plus a subsample of ongoing members.
Written consent is sought for taking a blood sample, for the extraction of DNA, and for reporting back selected results to GPs.
Levels of social integration and exclusion are covered in a number of questions spread over the Social Participation, Effort and Reward, and Self-completion modules. Participation in education and voluntary activities is also briefly covered in the Work and Pensions module.
In Wave 1 the Social Participation module covered caring responsibilities, various social and cultural activities, and membership of organizations. Respondents are asked whether they would like to participate in activities more often. It also covered transport options available as this may be a barrier to participation. Questions on access to key facilities were in the self-completion questionnaire.
Since Wave 2 the Social Participation module has been mainly confined to transport questions. In Wave 3 the transport section was expanded to consider some forms of transport other than own car and public transport.
In Wave 2 the questions on caring (other than in a professional capacity) and on voluntary work were enhanced by asking about motivations for caring and voluntary work. These questions were placed in the newly-created Effort and Reward module because people were also asked whether they felt they were being appreciated for their efforts in caring or voluntary work and were satisified with the gain therefrom. These were added to enable testing of the hypothesis that an imbalance between effort and reward leads to stress and hence to ill health. In Wave 4 the Effort and Reward section has been expanded yet further to ask people to specify the forms of voluntary work that they do and also, for those whose caring absorbs more than 20 hours a week, to ask about use of respite care.
Since Wave 2 questions on other social and cultural activities and on organizational membership have been in the self-completion module. Also see the self-completion module for information on social networks.
The Work and Pensions module collects from each member of the ELSA sample employment details, job characteristics, earnings, occupational pension contributions or receipts, and retirement decisions. It includes information about job search, training and voluntary activities if relevant. One use of the job details is to assign National Statistics Socioeconomic Classification to individuals. The information on pensions is detailed in order to collect sufficient information to establish individual pension contributions and pension rights for those not currently drawing pensions and to determine how these will change with employment or retirement decisions. For those wishing to study pension rights in detail, separate data sets at pension-scheme level have been produced. Medical insurance provision is also covered.
In addition to those areas covered in wave 1, the Work and Pensions module from wave 2 onwards also covers:
In wave 3 there were questions on the receipt of pension forecast statements and, from wave 3 onwards, women under 60 were asked about their awareness of changes to the state pension.
In the Income and Assets module, those identified as providers of financial information, are asked about their individual and joint income, assets and debts. Summary information on the income and assets of other household members is collected where appropriate. This section of the interview is modelled fairly closely on the Health and Retirement Survey, with the use of unfolding brackets to minimise non-response.
Topics covered are:
* Value of main home is collected in the housing module.
In the Housing module the financial respondent is asked to provide details of current tenure of main home, housing type and quality, house value and mortgage liabilities.
Topics covered are:
The cognitive functioning module covers memory, language and executive function. Dimensions of cognitive function included in all waves were: meta-memory; orientation in time; prospective memory; word list learning; verbal fluency; and visual search. In wave 1 basic arithmetic ability was assessed and in wave 2 literacy was assessed. Arithmetic ability is being retested in Wave 4.
The Psychosocial Health module covers psychological health and perceptions of old age. There are other items of psychosocial risk factors in the self-completion part of the questionnaire. A core part of this module measures depression using the CES-D scale. In Wave 2 this was supplemented by some quality of care questions. In Waves 1 and 3 there were also questions on the respondents' perceptions of the ages at which old age starts and middle age finishes. In wave 4 some questions on perceptions of age one feels and would like to be were moved into this section from the self completion section.
An Expectations module is included to see whether perceptions of what the future holds foreshadow the reality - and to compare sub-groups to see if such attitudes might be on the pathway to health and income differences between them.
The respondent's financial planning horizon was also measured in waves 1 and 2.
The main self-completion questionnaire contains instruments that are standardly collected in this way to safeguard privacy or because they are straightforward to collect. Core items are the CASP quality of life questionnaire, views of relationships with family and friends, and perceived social status. The self-completion form was expanded in wave 2 to include items previously administered by interviewer (mainly participation in activities). Instruments to measure demand - control balance, effort and reward and the Diener Life Satisifaction Scale have been included from wave 2 onwards. Items that will appear in some waves but not others are the GHQ12, accessibility of key facilities, and questions about the neighbourhood that provide a measure of social capital, and questions about perceptions of positive and negative aspects of ageing. In Wave 4 there are new questions on altruism, sense of community, and television watching (for sedentary activity and cultural interest).
Details of the previous week's alcohol consumption are also requested although the details have changed over waves. In Wave 3 questions on fruit and vegetable consumption were added.
Supplementary self-completion questionnaires can be added for subsamples of participants at specific waves. For example, in Wave 2, a small subsample received the Ryff questionnaire on well-being. In Wave 3 subsamples were asked to complete questionnaires with vignettes; these give an 'external' assessment of thresholds people apply when assessing health and work disability. This information is then used to see whether differences in self-reports between groups are partly the consequence of differences in thresholds.
Miscellaneous information that does not easily fit elsewhere is collected in the Final Questions Module. Classificatory information on ethnic group, country of birth, education is collected. Importantly this section seeks consent from respondents to collect a range of further information from them and about them. Also to facilitate future contact, respondents are asked to name a third party who can act as contact should the respondent move and also to nominate someone who could be their proxy, should they become unable to answer for themselves.
English Longitudinal Study of Ageing