Method: since the 1990 implementation of the US nursing home Resident Assessment Instrument (RAI), researchers in other nations have begun to use the RAI to assess institutionalized elders for payment, research, or planning purposes. We report comparative statistics representing institutionalized residents in seven nations, describing from several hundred to hundreds of thousands of residents. Results: significant differences are seen in age and length of stay, and in summary measures of physical and cognitive functioning and case-mix. Countries also differ in their homogeneity across nursing homes. Conclusion: these differences strengthen the position that 'nursing home' does not provide a sound basis for cross-national comparisons, and should be replaced with resident-specific descriptors. This also suggests that cross-national comparisons need to adjust at the level of the individual resident for differences in resident populations.