BMJ Open 4:e004476 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-004476
  • Epidemiology
    • Research

Adapting data collection methods in the Australian Life Histories and Health Survey: a retrospective life course study

  1. Peta M Forder3
  1. 1ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR), Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  2. 2Centre for Research on Ageing, Health, and Wellbeing, Research School of Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
  3. 3Research Centre for Gender, Health and Ageing, School of Medicine and Public Health, Faculty of Health, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, New South Wales, Australia
  4. 4Ageing, Work and Health Research Unit, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  5. 5School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  6. 6School of Population Health, University of Queensland, Herston, Queensland, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Professor Hal Kendig; hal.kendig{at}
  • Received 14 November 2013
  • Revised 25 February 2014
  • Accepted 26 February 2014
  • Published 24 March 2014


Objective Ideally, life course data are collected prospectively through an ongoing longitudinal study. We report adaptive multimethod fieldwork procedures that gathered life history data by mail survey and telephone interview, comparable with the face-to-face methods employed in the English Longitudinal Study on Ageing (ELSA).

Design The Australian Life Histories and Health (LHH) Survey was a substudy of the Australian 45 and Up Study, with data collection methods modified from the ELSA Study. A self-complete questionnaire and life history calendar were completed by the participants, followed by a computer-assisted telephone interview recording key life events.

Results The LHH survey developed and tested procedures and instruments that gathered rich life history data within an ongoing Australian longitudinal survey on ageing. Data collection proved to be economical. The use of a self-complete questionnaire in conjunction with a life history calendar and coordinated computer-assisted telephone interview was successful in collecting retrospective life course information, in terms of being thorough, practical and efficient. This study has a diverse collection of data covering the life course, starting with early life experiences and continuing with socioeconomic and health exposures and outcomes during adult life.

Conclusions Mail and telephone methodology can accurately and economically add a life history dimension to an ongoing longitudinal survey. The method is particularly valuable for surveying widely dispersed populations. The results will facilitate understanding of the social determinants of health by gathering data on earlier life exposures as well as comparative data across geographical and societal contexts.

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