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The 1982 United Nations World Assembly on Aging increased awareness of emerging trends in population aging in many quarters, including policymakers in a number of developing countries, which were rapidly undergoing a demographic transition to lower fertility and an older age structure. This led to the initiation by demographers and other social and health scientists of new investigations of the consequences of these changes for the health and well-being of the older population, as well as the implications for economic development and other major societal trends. Many of these investigations took the form of sample surveys of the older population (and occasionally of their children), inquiring about physical and emotional health, level and sources of support, family involvement, economic activity, and other dimensions of well-being. A number of the studies were multi-country efforts to facilitate comparative analysis. As expected with any new field of inquiry, these studies have grown in complexity over the years: many of the survey designs are now longitudinal, using repeated cross-sections or reinterviews of the initial respondents; the questionnaires are more detailed on many of the topics: and more attention is being paid to sampling issues, response rates and other aspects of good survey practice.

Although one can point to early surveys on the welfare of the elderly in Latin America, for a number of reasons there appears to have been earlier and more persistent efforts in East and Southeast Asia (see Hermalin, 1995). But in any case, the continued demographic transition throughout much of the developing world, combined often with significant social and economic transformation, has led to more widespread and continued interest. As a result, one can one can now identify major studies of population aging and the older population in each of the developing country regions, and many second and third generation studies are underway or on the drawing boards. The growth in the number and range of surveys presents opportunities and challenges to the research community. They permit the review of earlier questionnaires and the analysis of earlier data to test ideas before launching a new study. They open up the possibility of undertaking comparative analysis across countries and regions to study variations in outcomes and relationships—an activity that our Network plans to initiate and foster. Where there are repeated cross-sectional studies important time series analyses are possible. And in a number of countries that have been panel studies of the older population, which trace individuals over time and permit prospective studies of factors associated with key social, economic, and health outcomes and with mortality differentials.

These important scientific uses are only possible if existing studies are readily available to the research community. Fortunately, there has been rapid progress in this direction, with several efforts first to identify the range of surveys, and secondly, to archive many of them in a way that allows access. This overview identifies the major reviews and sources before providing an alphabetical list of countries that have survey data available to researchers. Note that this overview deals only with survey data. In addition useful studies of population aging can be derived from census data and from vital statistics, and several of these sources are included in the archives listed here.

Al Hermalin, 2008