History of ACL


The first two waves of ACL (in 1986 and 1989) were supported by the National Institute of Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under a program project grant (P01AG05561) that also supported the beginnings of the related Changing Lives of Older Couples study (CLOC) in Detroit. NIA has also supported the 1994 and 2001/2 follow-up waves of data collection, and will support the upcoming 2011/12 fifth wave of data collection, and has also provided funding for all processing of the data for analysis and archiving and for tracking/mortality ascertainment on the ACL sample, and much of the analysis of the data (RO1AG09978 and RO1AG018418). In the mid-1990s, during a brief hiatus in NIA support, some of the latter activities were also supported by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigators in Health Policy Award to James S. House, who was the Principal Investigator (PI) of ACL from its inception through 2005, and has resumed that role in 2011, with Paula Lantz having served as PI from 2006-2010.

Mid-1980s - mid-1990s

The original ACL proposal and its 1986 and 1989 waves focused on estimating the role over the adult life course of a whole range of psychosocial factors in the maintenance of health and effective functioning, including physical and mental health and productive activity, both in and outside of the paid labor force. These foci are reflected in the initial publication of the ACL investigators in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and have continued since then. This work was initially derived from and related to a larger body of then and still active theory and research on "stress and adaption/coping." The senior investigator group of this period in ACL comprised House, Regula Herzog, James Jackson, Robert Kahn, Graham Kalton, Ronald Kessler, and Camille Wortman. Senior support staff included Richard Mero and Sue Meyer.

Mid-1990s - mid-2000s

Reflecting initial analyses of the ACL data, changes in the investigator team, and new developments in social epidemiology in the 1980s, the ACL study shifted and sharpened its focus to what subsequently became the two overarching goals of the strategic plan of the U.S. Public Services in its Healthy People 2010:

(1) extending healthy or active life expectancy; and

(2) reducing social disparities in health by socioeconomic position and/or race/ethnicity.

This refocusing was begun in two early publications (House et al 1990, 1992) and became the dominant, though by no means exclusive, focus of publications from the mid-1990s onward. These objectives also increasingly shaped the evolving content of the ACL study in its 1994 and 2001/2 waves of data collection. The senior investigators from the mid-1990s through mid-2000s comprised House and Pamela Herd, Paula Lantz, James Lepkowski, John Lynch, Stephanie Robert, and David Williams. Over this period the staff evolved to include (through the present) Cathy Doherty, Mary Jo Griewahn, Robert Melendez, Richard Mero, and Barbara Strane.

Mid-2000s and onwards

The extension of the longitudinal data to 15 years in 2001/2 confirmed the findings from initial cross-sectional and shorter-term longitudinal data that the postponement or "rectangularization / compression" of health problems, especially functional limitations, over the adult life course was characterized by large educational and income disparities. Most intriguingly, those with college education had achieved, just since 1986, a remarkable extension of the rectangularization / compression / postponement of functional limitations from their 60s and 60s into their 70s and even early 80s, with the less educated not sharing in these gains (House, Lantz, and Herd 2005). The ACL study has also identified the particular importance of income in postponing further health decline and mortality once people have health problems. These issues will shape future ACL data collection and analysis in 2011/12 and beyond, including continued assessment of continuities and changes in social disparities regarding the postponement/ rectangularization/ compression of health problems, and increasing investigations of the reasons for these continuities and changes. The projectís senior investigator team now comprises House, Sarah Burgard, Philippa Clarke, Michael Elliott, Kenneth Langa, Paula Lantz, and Jeffrey Morenoff.

More details of the history and major funding of the ACL through 2005 on can in found in House, Lantz, and Herd (2005).