ELSA COVID-19 Substudy

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The ELSA COVID-19 Substudy aims to investigate the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on the older population in England.

We have been awarded funding from the Economic and Social Research Council via the UK Research and Innovation Covid-19 Rapid Response call, to collect data from more than 10,000 of our ELSA participants, all aged 50 years and over, asking them about their experiences of the COVID-19 crisis.

Data Collection 

Fieldwork for the first wave lasted 54 days (7 weeks and 5 days), with the survey launching on 3rd June 2020. The CATI fieldwork started on the 29th June and lasted for 4 weeks, with a smaller number of study participants being assigned to the telephone interviewers two weeks earlier than the others.

The first wave of the ELSA COVID-19 Substudy closed on the 26th July 2020, achieving a final response rate of 75% (7,040 completed interviews from a sample of 9,392 study participants), with 83% of the surveys completed online and 17% on the phone.

The web fieldwork for the second wave started on the 4th November 2020 and lasted 47 days (6 weeks and 5 days, one week shorter than the first wave). The CATI fieldwork started one week after, on the 11th November.


The second wave of the ELSA COVID-19 Substudy closed on the 20th December 2020, confirming the same response rate and split in modes witnessed in the first wave of the Substudy: final response rate of 75% (6,794 completed interviews, with fewer study participants issued to the second wave due to refusals and ineligibility), 83% of the surveys were completed online and 17% on the phone.

Data from the first wave of the ELSA COVID-19 Substudy is now available to download via the UK Data Service.






Rapid reports

Financial consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for
older people
30th September 2020
The experience of older people instructed to shield or self-isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic
30th September 2020 (updated 13th October 2020) 
The experience of older people
with multimorbidity during the
COVID-19 pandemic
30th September 2020
Changes in older people’s experiences of providing care and of volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic
30th September 2020

Methodological report 

Adapting fieldwork during the COVID-19 outbreak
A methodological overview of the ELSA COVID-19 Substudy 
30th September 2020


We aim to address the following questions:

1. What is the immediate impact of the COVID-19 crisis on health, access to health and social care, financial circumstances, mental wellbeing, and social activity in the older population in England? This will be addressed by a survey of the complete ELSA cohort (wave 1 from June 2020).

2. What changes take place in mental and physical health, finances, and social experience as this period of vulnerability, isolation, and return to social contact evolves? This will be investigated by a repeat assessment in the autumn (wave 2 from November 2020).

However, many other questions will be answerable with these data. When combined with current and future ELSA data, these data will be used extensively by the ELSA team and other researchers to examine the many immediate and long term impacts of COVID-19.

How we are collecting the data

We are collecting the data by a combination of internet and telephone assessments. All ELSA sample members (around 10,000 individuals) were contacted by post and invited to take part in Wave 1 via an online survey. This communication highlighted a £10 incentive for participation.

Those who are unable or unwilling to participate are contacted by the NatCen telephone unit to carry out Computer Assisted Telephone Interviews (CATI) over a period of 3 to 4 weeks. The CATI has the same content as the internet survey but is adapted for telephone administration, where necessary.

The questionnaire takes around 30 minutes to complete.

Survey content

[Download the ELSA Wave 1 COVID-19 questionnaire]

[Download the ELSA Wave 2 COVID-19 questionnaire]

Our assessment protocol combines new COVID-19 questions with measures used in previous ELSA waves of data collection. We have also been collaborating with the Wellcome Trust initiative coordinating questionnaire content across longitudinal studies, and with international colleagues who run longitudinal ageing studies similar to ELSA.

The Wave 1 protocol has the following components:


Questions concerning the experience of symptoms, illness, testing, and hospitalisation of the participant, their household, and people close to them.

Other health issues

New health conditions, access to hospital and primary care, and to medication.

Mental health

Assessed using the CESD depression scale, the GAD7 anxiety scale, and wellbeing measures.


Questions on type of housing, number of rooms, access to private outdoor space, and the number, ages, and relationships of people in the household.

Financial circumstances

Measured through changes in financial situation, worry about future financial security and ability to buy food, changes in income, receipt of benefits and financial assistance programmes, and expectations for the future.


Changes in work patterns, risk of infection during work and job security.

Social connections and isolation

Assessed with adaptations of existing measures of frequency of contact with immediate family, other relatives and friends on the telephone, email, and video-conferencing, and quality of relationship with partner. We will also measure loneliness, internet use, watching TV, volunteering and caregiving.

Health behaviours

Measured through changes in smoking, drinking alcohol, physical activity, eating behaviour, sedentary behaviour, and sleep.

Access to the ELSA COVID-19 Substudy data

Data from Wave 1 of the ELSA COVID-19 Substudy is now available to download via UKDS.


If you have any questions about the ELSA COVID-19 Substudy, please contact the ELSA Project Manager: ELSA@ucl.ac.uk.