The Health and Retirement Study (HRS) is a nationally representative longitudinal survey of more than 37 000 individuals over age 50 in 23 000 households in the USA. The survey, which has been fielded every 2 years since 1992, was established to provide a national resource for data on the changing health and economic circumstances associated with ageing at both individual and population levels. Its multidisciplinary approach is focused on four broad topics-income and wealth; health, cognition and use of healthcare services; work and retirement; and family connections. HRS data are also linked at the individual level to administrative records from Social Security and Medicare, Veteran's Administration, the National Death Index and employer-provided pension plan information. Since 2006, data collection has expanded to include biomarkers and genetics as well as much greater depth in psychology and social context. This blend of economic, health and psychosocial information provides unprecedented potential to study increasingly complex questions about ageing and retirement. The HRS has been a leading force for rapid release of data while simultaneously protecting the confidentiality of respondents. Three categories of data-public, sensitive and restricted-can be accessed through procedures described on the HRS website (hrsonline.isr.umich.edu).