Measurement equivalence in ADL and IADL difficulty across international surveys of aging: findings from the HRS, SHARE, and ELSA

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2012 Jan;67(1):121-32. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbr133. Epub 2011 Dec 12.


Objective: To examine the measurement equivalence of items on disability across three international surveys of aging.

Method: Data for persons aged 65 and older were drawn from the Health and Retirement Survey (HRS, n = 10,905), English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA, n = 5,437), and Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE, n = 13,408). Differential item functioning (DIF) was assessed using item response theory (IRT) methods for activities of daily living (ADL) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) items.

Results: HRS and SHARE exhibited measurement equivalence, but 6 of 11 items in ELSA demonstrated meaningful DIF. At the scale level, this item-level DIF affected scores reflecting greater disability. IRT methods also spread out score distributions and shifted scores higher (toward greater disability). Results for mean disability differences by demographic characteristics, using original and DIF-adjusted scores, were the same overall but differed for some subgroup comparisons involving ELSA.

Discussion: Testing and adjusting for DIF is one means of minimizing measurement error in cross-national survey comparisons. IRT methods were used to evaluate potential measurement bias in disability comparisons across three international surveys of aging. The analysis also suggested DIF was mitigated for scales including both ADL and IADL and that summary indexes (counts of limitations) likely underestimate mean disability in these international populations.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Bias*
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Health Surveys / standards*
  • Humans
  • Internationality*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • United States