HRS File Merge Reference

The Health and Retirement Study provides researchers with a broad array of data about people over the age of 50 in the United States. Information is collected over a wide swath of areas: health status and care, cognition, functional limitations and disabilities, family structure, housing, insurance earnings and assets, physical measures, and more. As a result, it is necessary to pay careful attention to the question of maintaining respondent confidentiality when merging various types of data products.

Public Data

HRS public data are available on the internet via download following a brief user registration process. By default, there is no limitation on merging public data with any other HRS data product.

Sensitive Biomarker and Health Data

Researchers must provide additional assurances to obtain access to Sensitive Biomarker and Health Data. Applicants must establish their institutional affiliation credentials via a Data Use Agreement before receiving authorization to access sensitive health data. Once approved, researchers may use any sensitive health data product in conjunction with any public, restricted or genomic data product. Note: A separate Sensitive Health DUA is not necessary if the work is to be performed in the Enclave.

Genetic Data

HRS GWAS data are available from the NIH database on Genotypes and Phenotypes (dbGaP). Additional HRS genetic data products are available through the MiCDA Enclave, or with proof of dbGaP approval, through the HRS file download site. Genetic data may be merged with any HRS public, sensitive health, and/or restricted data product. Note: A separate Genetic DUA is not necessary if the researcher already has access to HRS restricted data.

Restricted Data

For all restricted data product merges, including genetic data, researchers must provide scientific rationale and receive approval from the HRS.

MiCDA Enclave

The Michigan Center on the Demography of Aging (MiCDA) Enclave provides a secure 24x7x52 computing environment in which researchers can access and analyze restricted data files, and this allows generous rules for merging restricted, sensitive health, and public data.

Enclave users must complete an application process that includes a research plan, data security plan for each point of access, an HRS Confidentiality Agreement, an Enclave Acceptable Use Policy, and an ISR Confidentiality Pledge. Approved enclave users will be given access to all restricted data products included in their user agreement, including HRS Public Data, Sensitive Biomarker and Health Data, and Genetic Data. If approved, Enclave users may import their own program and data files, subject to inspection and approval by Enclave staff. Note: At the present time, HRS-CMS research data is not available through the Enclave. HRS will continue to approve traditional license access to HRS-CMS research data.

Following inspection and approval by Enclave staff, analysis output may be exported from the Enclave. The document MiCDA Enclave Export Rules explains the export process. Note: Microdata may not be exported under any circumstances.

Merging Social Security administrative data with Geographic Information is allowed in the Enclave subject to prior approval from the HRS Director, or his designee.

Non-Enclave (Traditional License) Use

Access to HRS Restricted outside of the Enclave environment requires an institutionally counter-signed data confidentiality agreement, proof of current federal funding, proof of current human subjects review, provision of a detailed research plan and a detailed data security plan – all of which HRS must review and approve. Additional restrictions apply to results reporting and publication review for confidentiality concerns. Researchers must agree to unannounced site inspections for compliance with approved data security plan.

Users will be given access to all restricted data products approved in their user agreement, including CMS Research Data, Sensitive Biomarker and Health Data and Genetic Data.Users must specify any other data to be merged with the restricted data in their approved research plan.

Merge of restricted data products is generally allowable, at the discretion of the HRS and provided sufficient justification.

Merging Social Security administrative data with Geographic Information is PROHIBITED for traditional license users.