The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) is a panel study of a representative cohort of men and women living in England aged ≥50 years. It was designed as a sister study to the Health and Retirement Study in the USA and is multidisciplinary in orientation, involving the collection of economic, social, psychological, cognitive, health, biological and genetic data. The study commenced in 2002, and the sample has been followed up every 2 years. Data are collected using computer-assisted personal interviews and self-completion questionnaires, with additional nurse visits for the assessment of biomarkers every 4 years. The original sample consisted of 11 391 members ranging in age from 50 to 100 years. ELSA is harmonized with ageing studies in other countries to facilitate international comparisons, and is linked to financial and health registry data. The data set is openly available to researchers and analysts soon after collection (http://www.esds.ac.uk/longitudinal/access/elsa/l5050.asp). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Epidemiological Association © The Author 2012; all rights reserved.