In 2003, the RAND Corporation received a five-year grant from the National Institute on Aging to study methodological issues of internet interviewing among an older population. RAND researchers collaborated on this project with researchers at the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study. Part of this work compared internet interviewing with computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI). RAND recruited a small internet panel and a parallel telephone panel for this work. Once the experiments comparing CATI and Internet interviewing were complete, RAND researchers persuaded 80 of the 500 CATI panel members to join the Internet panel. These two groups together formed the initial group of what would eventually become the American Life Panel.

RAND researchers conducted three surveys among this group from December 2003 to June 2005. These were Well Being 1, Well Being 2, and Well Being 3 and focused on collecting data regarding the health and well-being of panel respondents. The scope and variety of topics has since expanded greatly.

The American Life Panel (ALP) as it currently operates began in early 2006. Though the early years of the panel involved recruiting adults age 40 and over, by December 2006 we changed our approach to recruit adult members age 18 or over. The first household-information survey of the panel asked respondents a wide range of demographic questions. These questions, which have been repeated quarterly, are similar to those in the Current Population Survey (conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Such alignment allows for extrapolation of ALP results to the general U.S. population, as it allows to weigh ALP data sets to reflect current U.S. demographics.

The ALP had three surveys in 2006 (Well Being 4 to 6). Since then, the ALP has conducted more than 400 surveys covering increasingly diverse topics, such as financial decision making, the effect of political events on self-reported well-being, inflation expectations, joint retirement decisions, retirement preferences, health decision making, Social Security knowledge and expectations, measurement of health utility, and numeracy.

The number and diversity of ALP clients and users has also increased. About 35 different research groups have conducted surveys using the panel. The ALP has over 700 registered users from numerous institutions, both in the United States and in Europe. Clients who have used the panel include the Federal Reserve Banks of Boston and New York, the Social Security Administration, Harvard University, Dartmouth College, University of Southern California, University of Southern California Berkeley, University of Pennsylvania, and Tilburg University (Netherlands).