About the ProjectAbout the Project

Purpose and history of the project

The study began in 1986 as a collaboration with the University of Michigan in the United States, with the Department of Sociology of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology (TMIG) playing the central role. The project is currently being carried out by the Research Team for Social Participation and Healthy Aging of TMIG in collaboration with many researchers at other institutions, including the University of Michigan and the Institute of Gerontology of The University of Tokyo.

The study involves interview surveys of individuals aged 60 years or older throughout Japan to examine various aspects of life during its later stages. These include physical and mental health, lifestyle, family, relationships with friends and neighbors, social participation, and economic conditions. The first survey was conducted in 1987, with follow-up surveys conducted roughly every 3 years as new participants were added. The seventh wave survey was conducted in 2006, the eighth in 2012, the ninth in 2017, and the tenth in 2021 (see Fig. 1).

A feature of the study is that the same individuals are surveyed repeatedly (referred to as a panel survey or longitudinal survey). Surveying the same individuals continuously provides insight into aspects such as changes in the physical and mental health and lives of older adults, the causes of such changes, and the characteristics of individuals who live long and healthy lives. Although this type of study (longitudinal) is generally conducted in Japan today, as in other countries, our study stands out due to its continuity as early as from the 1980s.

* Please also see Overview of Survey Design for information on the methods used.

Although many of the survey questions are asked continuously to examine changes, study topics are selected to reflect the research trends and social conditions present at that time, and questions have therefore been changed and added accordingly.

For example, the main topic from the first wave (1987) to the fourth wave (1996) was a comparison of the health and well-being of older adults in Japan and the United States. The areas examined were whether various health indicators and scales of subjective well-being (SWB) that had been used in Western countries could also be used for older adults in Japan, as well as factors that affect SWB (e.g., social support, the social network, and life events).

As the long-term care insurance system was implemented in Japan beginning in 2000, in the fifth wave (1999) to the seventh wave (2006), the focus was placed on the issues of the older old, who have a greater need for private and public support. Consequently, individuals aged 70 years or older were sampled and added in the fifth wave (D of Fig. 1). In the seventh wave, a postal survey of the children (mean age, 54 years) of those participants (those aged 77 years or older in 2006) was also conducted to examine in greater detail how support is given and received between elderly individuals and their adult children.

Although the fact that the surveys have been conducted over a long period (since 1987) is a major advantage of this study, a question that arises is whether results obtained for elderly individuals at a certain point in time also apply to the elderly of today. Consequently, the eighth wave (2012) and the tenth wave (2021) included a new sample of individuals aged 60-92 years (E and F of Fig. 1), and the chronological and generational changes of elderly individuals were given focus in addition to the previous study topics. Thus, older adults who were born after World War II, including the “baby boomer” generation, became a part of the survey participants. It is therefore anticipated that if the follow-up surveys can be continued in the future, the postwar and previous generations can be compared with respect to the changes associated with aging.

Figure 1. Ages of the survey participants
Figure 1. Ages of the survey participants

[Birth year of the respondents]
A:1893-1927, B:1927-1930, C:1930-1936, D:1898-1929, E:1919-1952, F:1928-1961

Survey and project names

The formal name of the survey that was used when asking for cooperation varied depending on the study topic and the ages of the participants, as indicated in Table 1.

Table 1 Survey names
Wave Survey Name Year
Organization Responsible
Wave 1 National Survey of the Japanese Elderly 1987 Institute of Gerontology, University of Michigan
Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology
Wave 2 Comparative Survey of Elderly in Japan and the United States 1990 Same as above
Wave 3 Same as above 1993 Same as above
Wave 4 Comparative Survey of Older Adults in Japan and the United States 1996 Same as above
Wave 5 Japan-United States Comparative Survey on the Lives of the Elderly in Societies with a Longer Life Span 1999 Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology
Faculty of Letters, The University of Tokyo
Institute of Gerontology, University of Michigan
Wave 6 Same as above 2002 Same as above
Wave 7 Same as above 2006 Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology
The University of Tokyo
University of Michigan
Wave 8 Survey on the Lives of Older Adults in a Society with a Longer Life Span 2012 Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology
Institute of Gerontology, The University of Tokyo
University of Michigan
Wave 9 Same as above 2017 Same as above
Wave 10 Same as above 2021 Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology

The database for this long-term longitudinal study and the project itself are currently referred to in articles by two abbreviated names, NSJE and JAHEAD.

NSJE stands for the National Survey of the Japanese Elderly, which was the name of the first wave survey. The anonymized individual data (micro data) from this study (first through fourth waves) have been published in the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research data archive of the University of Michigan, and have also been used in analyses by non-Japanese researchers. Because the survey is registered in the archive under the name “National Survey of the Japanese Elderly,” it is often referred to as the NSJE in overseas research publications. The data have also been available in the Social Science Japan Data Archive of The University of Tokyo under the name National Panel Survey of the Japanese Elderly (through the eighth wave as of March 2023), and have been utilized by many researchers for secondary analyses.

* For information on using the individual data, please see the Use of the Data page (in Japanese).

The name JAHEAD is derived from the research framework of the Study of Assets and Health Dynamics among the Oldest Old (AHEAD) study conducted by the Institute for Social Research of the University of Michigan. JAHEAD has been used since the fifth wave as an abbreviation of Japanese AHEAD. The eighth wave added participants in their 60s and had a limited number of questions regarding assets. Consequently, JAHEAD currently stands for “Japanese Aging and Health Dynamics.”

The changes in the survey and project names, which convey a certain lack of uniformity, may symbolize the study’s history of trial and error over 30 years.