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A narrative review of quantitative population-based longitudinal studies was conducted to examine the association of formal voluntary work and personal well-being among older people doing the voluntary work and those being served. To be included, the study had to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, written in English and conducted in Western countries, participants were at least 60 years of age, the study employed a longitudinal or experimental design, the methodology and outcomes were explicitly described, and voluntary work quantified as visits or hours within a certain time frame. Sixteen studies out of 2897 met the inclusion criteria for the review reporting on benefits of volunteering for those doing the voluntary work. Outcomes were collapsed into three categories of personal well-being: physical health, mental health, and psychosocial resources. All included studies came from the United States and showed that volunteering in old age predicted better self-rated health, functioning, physical activity and life satisfaction as well as decreased depression and mortality. However, it did not decrease the risk of chronic diseases or nursing home admission in old age. Only one study which met the inclusion criteria on the benefits of volunteering for older recipients was identified. Studies mainly used data from large datasets with only limited information about volunteering, which limits more detailed analyses. Randomized controlled trials are needed to study the effect of voluntary work on those being served, as well as to reveal the healthy participant effect among volunteers.
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Aging Clin Exp Res. First published ahead of print July 16, 2010 as DOI: 10.3275/7200
Copyright© 2010, Editrice Kurtis
Benefits of formal voluntary work among older people – A review
Mikaela B. von Bonsdorff, PhD1,2,3, Taina Rantanen, PhD1
1Gerontology Research Centre, Department of Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
2GeroCenter Foundation for Research and Development, Jyväskylä, Finland
3The Central Finland Health Care District, Jyväskylä, Finland
Corresponding author and reprint requests:
Mikaela von Bonsdorff, Researcher, PhD
Gerontology Research Centre
Department of Health Sciences
University of Jyväskylä
PO Box 35 (Viveca)
FIN-40014 University of Jyväskylä
Tel. +358 14 260 4596, Fax +358 14 260 4600, e-mail
Keywords: formal volunteering, well-being, health, post-retirement, older people
Running head: Voluntary work among older people
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Received March 10, 2010; Accepted in revised form June 17, 2010.
A narrative review of quantitative population-based longitudinal studies was conducted to
examine the association of formal voluntary work and personal well-being among older people
doing the voluntary work and those being served. To be included the study had to be published
in a peer-reviewed journal, written in English and conducted in the Western countries,
participants had to be at least 60 years of age, the study employed a longitudinal or experimental
design, the methodology and outcomes explicitly described and voluntary work quantified as
visits or hours within a certain timeframe. Sixteen studies out of 2897 met the inclusion criteria
for the review reporting on benefits of volunteering for those doing the voluntary work.
Outcomes were collapsed into three categories of personal well-being: physical health, mental
health, and psychosocial resources. All included studies came from the United States and showed
that volunteering in old age predicted better self-rated health, functioning, physical activity and
life satisfaction as well as decreased depression and mortality. However, volunteering did not
decrease the risk of chronic diseases or nursing home admission in old age. Only one study that
met the inclusion criteria on the benefits of volunteering for the older recipients was identified.
Studies predominantly utilized data from large datasets with only limited information about
volunteering which limits more detailed analyses. Randomized controlled trials are needed for
studying the effect of voluntary work for those being served as well as to unmask the health
participant –effect among the volunteers.
Volunteering is defined as an activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that
aims to benefit the community in general or its individuals or specified subsets of community
members who are in need, such as older home bound persons (1, 2). This review focused on
formal volunteering and excluded informal volunteering such as helping and caring for close
relatives, friends or neighbors. What differentiates formal and informal volunteering is a sense of
obligation which is often stronger in informal volunteering than it is in formal volunteering,
where volunteering depends more on the ability and opportunity of the helper (1). Volunteering
has been quantified according to its intensity (the amount of time spent), diversity (how many
organizations), and consistency (how regularly the individual volunteers across the lifespan).
Formal volunteering is usually coordinated by public agencies, nonprofit agencies, religious
organizations, or through government programs covering a wide range of activities (1, 3).
Volunteering typically includes activities such as tutoring or mentoring either instrumental,
supportive or nonskilled; skilled or unskilled assistance or technical advice and public safety (4).
The growth in the older population in the 21st century will be a challenge to the public economy
and health care service system but it might also offer possibilities. The predicted shortage in the
labor force will increase the demand for volunteers in the future. The healthy active older
population who are not engaged in paid work constitutes a growing reservoir of human and
social capital (5-7), and volunteering is potentially a good venue to contribute to the society (8).
The generation born between 1946 and 1960 will enter into old age with a great deal of
experience and skills that could be transferred to the non-profit sector. In addition, increasing
longevity, health and wealth allows for non-profit activities such as volunteering in later life (9,
10). Volunteering could be a cornerstone of productive aging, as volunteering helps provide
services that are of economical and social value (11, 12).
Most studies on volunteering have been done in the United States, which is the most active
nation in volunteer work in Western Countries. According to the Current Population Survey, the
rate of volunteering in the U.S among people aged 65 years or over was 23.5% in the year 2008
(13). The long-standing tradition in volunteering in the U.S is partly due to their welfare system
that e.g. builds on non-profit and religious organizations as well as the fact that the U.S policy
makers have actively encouraged volunteering (14). In Europe, the rate of volunteering differs
between the countries, depending on the welfare policy (15). In Nordic countries, where the
public health care system is responsible for social welfare, older people participate more actively
in voluntary work than in the Mediterranean countries. There interfamily exchange is strong and
cohabitation among generations more usual than in north Europe (16). Cross-national data from
the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) on volunteering showed that
the rate of volunteering ranged between 2 and 21%, with an average of 10%, depending strongly
on the countries’ societal context concerning volunteering (17). In Australia about 20% (18) and
in Canada about 18% (19) of the older population had volunteered in the previous year.
In cross-sectional studies, the relationship between volunteering and well-being has been
identified (20-22). There is, however, the problem of causal order between well-being and
volunteering, which can only be addressed with a prospective study design (23). Good health and
adequate social resources tend to increase the probability of doing volunteer work (7, 23-26). It
has been argued that persons who are physically and mentally fit are not only able, but also
likely to be equipped with personal resources such as high self-esteem or control over life that
increase the likelihood of volunteering (1, 23, 26). It is equally plausible that health determines
volunteering than the other way around. Furthermore, the curvilinear relationship between
volunteering and well-being (27, 28) also showed that a moderate, but not high, number of hours
spent doing voluntary work enhanced late-life health and well-being.
Although a fairly large body of literature exists regarding the various benefits of volunteering for
those doing the voluntary work, earlier reviews (9, 20, 29, 30) have not investigated the benefits
of volunteering systematically with clearly defined inclusion and exclusion criteria. The aim of
this review was to conduct a systematized narrative literature review on quantitative data to
examine the association of formal voluntary work and personal well-being among older people
doing the voluntary work and those being served.
Search strategy
We searched for relevant studies published in English through November 31, 2009, without a
start date, using the following databases: PubMed, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled
Trials, Cochrane Database for Systematic Reviews, CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and
Allied Health Literature), ERIC (Education Resources Information Center), PsycINFO, Ovid
MEDLINE, ISI Web of Knowledge, and CSA (Sociological Abstracts). Depending on the
database, search terms included combinations of volunteering; “voluntary work”; aged; “older
people”; volunteerism; “benefits of volunteering”; “people being served”; “quality of life”;
intervention; trial. In addition, the reference lists of identified papers and reviews were searched
through for relevant articles. On the basis of the abstract, it was assessed whether the study had
the potential to be included. Based on the full article, it was decided whether the study met the
inclusion criteria.
Inclusion criteria
The following inclusion criteria were used: a) the study was published in a peer-reviewed journal
b) The paper was written in English and conducted in the Western countries c) participants were
at least 60 years of age, d) the study employed a longitudinal or experimental design, e) the study
methodology and outcomes were explicitly described and f) voluntary work was quantified as
visits or hours within a certain timeframe. The selection was made by the reviewer (M.v.B) and
in case of any uncertainty regarding the study inclusion the senior reviewer (T.R) was consulted.
2897 studies on older people volunteering were identified in the literature search of which 16
were accepted to this review (see Figure for review flow). The main reasons for exclusion were
that the study was cross-sectional, participants were under 60 years of age, volunteering was
defined to include also informal volunteering, or the study had not been published in a peer-
reviewed journal. The included studies investigated the associations of volunteering with the
well-being of those who did the voluntary work. 13 observational studies analyzed data from
population-based large prospective datasets and 3 experimental studies used data from one
randomized controlled trial. All studies were conducted in the U.S. Studies that used the same
large datasets were reviewed as separate studies when they investigated different outcomes.
Prospective studies included in the review
In the population-based prospective studies the number of participants ranged from 705 to 7.496,
except for one that included 71 women from the Baltimore Experience Corps Extended Pilot
Study matched with a comparison cohort of 150 women from the Women’s Health and Aging
Study (31), for description of included studies see Table 1. Age ranged between 60 to 97 years
(mean age between 70.1 to 77.0 years). Most of the participants (60-70%) were women and
predominantly white. The volunteers were more educated, had better perceived health and fewer
functional impairments than the non-volunteers (28). Most of the studies, however, did not
present baseline data according to the voluntary status, making it hard to compare the volunteers
to the non-volunteers for socio-demographics, health and functional status.
In the prospective datasets, voluntary work was mostly defined as the number of organizations
the person volunteered for and the total amount of hours dedicated for doing formal voluntary
work during the past 12 months. There was very little information on the nature and duration of
the voluntary work or the setting where volunteering took place. Among persons 65 years and
older, the volunteering rate in the past year ranged between 12-34.5% in the population-based
studies. The organizations for which participants had volunteered included, e.g., church or other
religious organization, school or educational organization, and political group or union. The
average number of organizations that the volunteers worked for was 1.7 (32). Number of hours
spent doing voluntary work ranged from 0 to 200 hours. Among those who volunteered, the
average number of hours spent volunteering was 72-73 during the previous year (28, 32). Some
studies (10, 27) reported the average hours spent volunteering among the entire study population,
which reflects the number of persons who did volunteer rather than the amount of volunteering
among those who actually volunteered.
The large datasets such as ACL and LSOA with several data collection waves during long
surveillance periods had relatively high attrition due to non-response, not being able to contact
the participants, and death. Even though in longitudinal studies missing data are often considered
being ubiquitous, it should be accounted for with current methods to avoid biased results (33). In
terms of missing data, it is important to consider whether it is missing at random or not at
random, where in the latter, systematic differences exist between the missing values and the
observed values even after the observed data are taken into account (34). Different imputation
methods, such as multiple imputation, recommended for dealing with data that are missing at
random, were used in some of the prospective studies on the ACL data (3, 10, 32) and the LSOA
data (35). Attrition in the studies drawing on data from the AHEAD study was stated to have
been small throughout the three data waves and weights were used to compensate for it (11, 36).
Randomized controlled trials included in the review
The Experience Corps implemented in Baltimore, Maryland (6) is so far the only randomized
controlled trial on volunteering among older people. The RCT was designed to generate social
benefits and simultaneously offer a community-based approach to health prevention. The 128
predominantly African American participants were randomized into an intervention group or a
control waiting list. The eligibility criteria for the trial were: 60 years or older, ability to read and
pass a criminal background check, ability to travel to the schools, a Mini-Mental State
Examination (37) score of 24 or above and/or meeting a threshold score on the Trail Making
Test (38). The intervention group participants served at least 15 hours per week in elementary
schools and assisted the children with e.g. reading achievement, library support, and class room
behavior during an academic year (39).
Longitudinal associations of volunteering and personal well-being
Outcomes were pooled together and collapsed into three categories that constituted personal
well-being: physical health, mental health, and psychosocial resources (23), see Table 2. Several
studies found a nonlinear relationship between volunteering and well-being (32), suggesting that
a certain amount of involvement is optimal but that a lower level of volunteering is beneficial for
well-being (27). Morrow-Howell et al. demonstrated that about 100 hours per year yielded the
greatest benefit of volunteering and that more hours per year did not increase the gains (32).
There were only a few studies that investigated volunteering with more than just the number of
hours committed to it. Building on ACL data, Morrow-Howell et al. reported that the number
and type of organization coordinating the voluntary work was not associated with the well-being
outcomes (32). However, in another study using the same data Musick & Wilson showed first
that the risk for death was lower for those who volunteered for one organization (27) and later
that religious volunteering and the longer duration of volunteering predicted better well-being in
older age (3).
Most prospective studies investigated the relationship between volunteering and physical health.
A series of studies found that volunteering predicted better self-rated health. Luoh et al. showed
with the AHEAD data that those who had volunteered 100 hours or more during the last year
rated their health better than those who had volunteered less than 100 hours (36). Two studies
(10, 11), drawing on data from AHEAD and ACL reported, on the other hand, no association
between volunteering and the number of physician diagnosed self-reported chronic diseases. In
all studies, volunteering at the age of 60 years or later predicted less difficulties or disability in
activities of daily living tasks than among the non-volunteers with follow-up ranging from 2 to 8
years (10, 11, 32, 36, 40). Tang used the ACL 1 through 3 data waves for showing that increased
hours spent volunteering at the age of 60 years or later predicted lower level of functional
dependency (10). Lum & Lightfoot found in the AHEAD data that volunteering was not
associated with living in a nursing home at the 7-year follow-up (11). Conversely, volunteering
at the age of 60 years or later predicted lower mortality in the prospective studies drawing on
data from the ACL, AHEAD, and LSOA studies (11, 27, 36, 41, 42).
Mental health and psychosocial resources are less studied outcomes of volunteering among
persons over 60 years of age, with the focus mainly on the association of volunteering and
depression (3, 11, 26, 32, 35, 40). Building on the three wave data from the ACL study, Li &
Ferrano found a beneficial effect of volunteering on depression during the eight year follow-up
(26). However, they further detected evidence of certain self-selection processes in that persons
with higher socioeconomic status and active church attendees had a lower incidence of
depression and were more actively engaged in volunteering (26). Van Willigen showed, drawing
on data from the ACL wave 1 and 2, that voluntary work increased life-satisfaction among
people over 60 years of age (28).
In a prospective study, Tan et al. compared the 71 women from the Experience Corps Pilot study
who did high-intensity voluntary work with 150 non-volunteering women controls from the
Women’s Health and Aging Study with a 3-year follow-up time. The women were aged 65-86
years and had comparable socio-economic status, self-rated health and frailty status. The study
showed that women who volunteered in the high-intensity senior service program reported
sustained increase in their physical activity level compared to the non-volunteering counterparts
during the 3-year follow-up (31).
Effects of volunteering on personal well-being
Three papers investigated in a randomized controlled setting the effect of high-intensity
volunteering on physical functioning (39), physical activity (39, 43) and cognition (39, 44). The
studies showed a positive trend in the effect of volunteering on cognitive and physical
functioning, although the power in the analysis was limited. The intervention increased the over
all physical activity level for the intervention group (39). Further, when measuring in kilocalories
per week, the short-term increase in physical activity was significant among the Experience
Corps volunteers compared to the controls (43).
Benefits of volunteering for those being served
The benefits of volunteering for those being served could not be reviewed, because only one
study that met the inclusion criteria was identified in the literature search. In that study, frail
home-bound older persons participated in the Strong for Life exercise program delivered by
volunteers who had been trained by physical therapists for the task. After the 4-month program,
the frail participants showed significant improvements on the Short Form-20 social functioning
scale, however there were no significant differences in physical functioning, mental health or
self-rated health (45). The study did not include a control group so the effect of the program
could not be evaluated in a controlled setting. The basic idea of the study was to investigate
whether an exercise program such as the Strong for Life program could be feasibly, efficiently
and safely delivered by specifically trained lay volunteers in voluntary organizations.
We identified and critically reviewed 16 studies investigating whether volunteering predicted
personal well-being among older people doing voluntary work. These studies used data from
three population-based prospective datasets and one randomized controlled trial. Volunteering in
old age predicted better self-rated health, functioning, physical activity and life satisfaction, as
well as decreased depression and mortality. However, volunteering did not decrease the risk of
chronic diseases or nursing home admission in old age.
Possible mechanisms for the effect of volunteering on well-being have not been extensively
discussed in the literature. The most commonly used explanation is the beneficial association of
social contacts that develop during volunteering or more general social activities. It has been
shown that social contacts and support have an effect on health and survival among older people
and volunteering fosters such connections (36, 42). Volunteering does involve a certain amount
of physical and mental effort and probably these beneficial physiological effects contribute to the
decreased risk of adverse health outcomes. Furthermore, volunteering is known to support
psychological well-being and sense of control, self-efficacy, which is positively related to health
(23). This might also in part explain the curvilinear beneficial effect of volunteering seen in
several studies (27, 36) in that reasonable amounts of volunteering are salubrious, but excessive
amounts are less likely to enhance health. Little empirical work has been done on specific
outcomes of volunteering (4, 32) as well as on the effect of different type of voluntary work on
health (27, 42). The findings on the association of the number of organizations one volunteers for
and subsequent well-being have been inconsistent (3, 27, 32). Thus, to be able to understand and
to investigate the mechanisms underlying the positive association of volunteering, more detailed
information on the nature of the voluntary work is needed.
The problem of causal order between well-being and volunteering is a challenging one.
Furthermore, we cannot completely control for the “healthy participant effect”. It is a fact that
persons who are in good health and possess adequate social and economic resources tend to
volunteer more (23, 26, 27). They are also likely to be equipped with personal resources such as
high self-esteem or control over life that increase the likelihood of volunteering (23, 26). Moen
et al. showed in their prospective study that women who volunteered in 1956 were more likely to
occupy multiple roles 30 years later and have better health outcomes than those who did not
volunteer earlier in their lives (46). That study differs from other studies that compare
volunteering and its benefits across different age groups, like e.g. van Willigen (28), in that the
period and cohort effect is controlled for. Volunteering presumably has a different meaning for
persons in different age groups born in different time periods and in addition, there are
underlying cultural norms and traditions that affect attitudes toward volunteering.
Future implications for practice
Volunteering is collectively seen as a feasible and humane way of helping people who cannot
cope on their own and as a potential field of productive activity for older retired fit persons who
still have a lot to offer. The basic element underlying voluntary work is that it is a social activity
which generates a considerable amount of social capital not only to the receiver, but also to the
giver, and consequently also to the society (9, 12). To date, persons who retire have better health
than ever before and they are expected to live longer without disabilities. Thus they have extra
time on their hands, and in some cases, the retired persons’ children and immediate family live
further away and they do not help their own family on a day-to-day basis. However, to what
extent can older people be expected to be a productive part of the society? The sheer increase in
leisure time after retirement cannot be assumed to result in more voluntary work being done
(12). It is potentially harmful for social cohesion to label those who do not, for some reason,
volunteer as unproductive in the society (47). Older age increases the risk for debilitating
illnesses and functional decline that hinders such activities even though the person would wish to
productively participate in the society.
Some people, who are near retirement age lead hectic lives and are often very committed to their
working careers. They are likely to transfer some of their energy and ambitious attitudes that
they have adopted during their paid working lives into post retirement volunteering, which will
probably result in changes in the current voluntary work policy. Volunteering could serve as a
good extension of the active working career by offering mental and physical challenges and
social contacts that will otherwise cease when the person is retired (36). However, it remains to
be seen whether the baby-boomers will engage more actively in voluntary work than the older
retired population today.
Even though volunteering is a charitable activity, we should bear in mind that it opens up the
doors of vulnerable older persons who do not necessarily understand the potential dangers and
thus might end up as targets for abuse (48). This is why it is crucial that voluntary work is
coordinated and monitored by responsible organizations that have unified standards for voluntary
work. The people who do ‘hands on’ voluntary work need to be properly trained for the task.
Volunteering should be evaluated rigorously and there should be clearly defined quality criteria
for its implementation.
Future implications for research
There are only a few large datasets in the world that have been used for studying volunteering
among older people. The majority of research data on the associations and effects of
volunteering on health and well-being come from the United States and might not apply to the
European countries. Further, the limited information available on the history of volunteer work
in earlier life as well as the frequency and duration of volunteering in the large datasets limits
more detailed analysis of the activity (3). Selection and social causation poses further challenges
to determining the effect of volunteer work on well-being (23). For example, it is challenging to
recruit people for volunteering studies who do not usually participate in any studies, e.g. those
who come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and who have few social contacts, but who
potentially stand to benefit from social activities such as volunteering. Another potential threat to
the analyses is attrition which is considerable in a prospective large dataset such as ACL (32). In
longitudinal studies on older people, attrition tends to be missing not at random and those who
drop out differ in earlier follow-ups from those who responded. Attrition should be recognized´,
described and dealt with in a proper way in prospective analyses (26). The effect of volunteering
for those being served could be explored among persons who live in similar settings with similar
services and needs. For this purpose, randomized controlled trials are needed to determine the
effect of volunteering on older people. To investigate more deeply the effect of volunteering for
those doing the voluntary work, prospective observational studies preferably starting in young
life are needed. In addition, gender and social class effects should be addressed more specifically
as well as life time engagement in religious and social activities through social networks should
be investigated in relation to voluntary work.
Volunteering has been shown to be positively associated with well-being in old age among those
doing the voluntary work. However, it is not clear whether activities such as volunteering
contribute to the health of older people as opposed to healthy persons being more likely to be
engaged in volunteer activities. Further, the mechanisms underlying the association between
volunteering and well-being in old age have been poorly identified. To date, we know little about
the effects of volunteering for those receiving the help. Studies have predominantly utilized data
from large datasets with only limited information about volunteering which prohibits more
detailed analyses. Randomized controlled trials are needed for studying the effect of voluntary
work for those being served as well as to unmask the health participator-effect among the
Table 1 Characteristics of prospective studies included in the review
Reference Participants
Voluntary work Confounders Follow-up Outcomes Results
Harris &
Thoreson 2005
70+ y.
frequently volunteers
during past 12 moths
Physical activity
Social support
8 years Mortality Reduced mortality
Hong S-I et al.
2009 (LSOA)
70+ y.
Yes/no during last 12
Self-rated health
Functional limitation
Functional dependency
6 years Depression Decreased depression
Li & Ferrano
60+ y.
Volunteering for 0-5
hrs/ past year
Church attendance
Informal social
8 years Depression Decreased depression
Li & Ferrano
2006 (ACL)
60+ y.
875 45-59 y.
Volunteering for 0-5
hrs/ past year
Church attendance
Informal social
8 years Functional limitations Decreased depression and
reduced pace of functional
Lum & Lightfoot
2005 (AHEAD)
7322, 13%
70+ y.
0-99 or 100 hours or
more work for
organization /past year
7 years Self-reported health
Medical conditions
Depression level
Functioning level
Nursing home entry
Decreased depression, reduced
loss of functioning,
not associated with medical
conditions or nursing entry
Luoh & Herzog
2002 (AHEAD)
100 hrs
70+ y.
0-99 or 100 hours or
more work for
organization /past year
Physical activity
Social contact
Cognitive functioning
Depressive symptoms
2 years Self-reported health
Functional status
Volunteering 100 hrs lowered
the risk of ill health, daily
living limitations and mortality
et al. 2003
60+ y
Volunteering for 0-5
hrs/ past year
Informal social
8 years Functional dependency
Self-rated health
Reduced functional dependency
and depression, positively
associated with self-rated
Musick et al.
1999 (ACL)
65+ y.
Volunteering for 0-5
hrs/ past year
Physical activity
Informal social
7.5 years Mortality Volunteering decreased
mortality, curvilinear
association according to
number of hours volunteered
Musick &
Wilson (2003)
2348, 24-90
y., (for the
number of
65+ y. no
Volunteering for 0-5
Secular/religious work,
periods of volunteering
Social resources
Psychological resources
Health and functioning
Physical activity
Church attendance
8 years Depression Decreased depression
Sabin 1993
70+ y.
Yes/no during last 12
Self-rated health
Functional dependency
4 years Mortality Reduced mortality
Tan et al. 2009
15h/ week for an
academic year in an
elementary school
Mobility disability
Frailty category
3 years Physical activity Volunteering increased the
level of physical activity
compared to the controls
Tan 2009
60+ y.
Volunteering for 0-5
hrs/ past year
Informal social contact
8 years Self-rated health
Functional dependency
Chronic diseases
Volunteering associated with
improved self-rated health,
decreased functional
dependency, but not with
Van Willigen
2000 (ACL)
60+ y.
Volunteering for 0-5
hrs/ past year
Social integration
Social support
3 years Life satisfaction
Self-rated health
Volunteering was positively
associated with both outcomes
American’s Changing Lives (ACL), Asset and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old Study (AHEAD), Baltimore Experience Corps (EC), The Longitudinal Study on
Aging (LSOA), (WHAS) Women’s Health and Aging Studies
M=mean, SES=socioeconomic status, CES-D=Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression(49)
Table 2 Personal well-being framework
Personal well-being Measure Reference
I Physical health
Morbidity Physician diagnosed
chronic diseases
Lum & Lightfoot 2005
Tan 2009
Self-rated health Self-repot, 5 categories Van Willigen 2000
Luoh & Herzog 2002
Morrow-Howell et al. 2003
Lum & Lightfoot 2005
Tan 2009
Functional status ADL and IADL disability Luoh & Herzog 2002
Morrow-Howell et al. 2003
Fried et al. 2004
Lum & Lightfoot 2005
Li & Ferrano 2006
Tan 2009
Physical activity Minnesota leisure time
physical activity
questionnaire (MLTPAQ)
Self-reported physical
activity questions
Strength*, endurance*,
balance*, physical tasks*
Fried et al. 2004*
Tan et al. 2006
Tan et al. 2009
Nursing home
Verified at follow-up data
Lum & Lightfoot 2005
Mortality Date of death,
National Death Index
Sabin 1993
Musick et al. 1999
Luoh & Herzog 2002
Harris & Thoreson 2005
Lum & Lightfoot 2005
II Mental health
Depression CES-D score
Self-reported single
Lum & Lightfoot 2005
Musick & Wilson 2003
Morrow-Howell et al. 2003
Li & Ferrano 2005
Li & Ferrano 2006
Hong et al. 2009
Executive functioning
Psychomotor speed
TMT, Rey-Osterrieth CFT
Word lists
Carlson et al. 2008
Cognitive activity Standardized questionnaire,
Fried et al. 2004
III Psychosocial resources
Life-satisfaction Self-reported, 5 categories Van Willigen 2000
ADL= Activities of Daily Living, IADL=Instrumental Activities of Daily Living, CES-D=Center for
Epidemiologic Studies Depression, TMT= Trail Making Test, Rey-Osterrieth CTF= Rey-Osterrieth Complex
Figure Test
Figure. Literature review flow diagram.
2897 Studies identified and screened for retrieval
66 Papers retrieved for detailed evaluation
2831 Studies excluded on the basis
of title or abstract (did not include
volunteering, under 60 years of age
at baseline, cross-sectional, reviews,
editorials, duplicates, full articles not
50 Papers excluded after full article
screening (included informal
volunteering, participants under 60
years of age at baseline, cross-
16 Papers included in the systematized review
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... Interventions that include social support have been evaluated to their impact on increasing PA [6]. Individual related determinants of PA have been investigated in recent decades and several related literature reviews have been published [7][8][9]. They have found, among other things, that an adult's age and health status were associated with participation in physical activities. ...
... 60% of volunteers spend up to two hours per week volunteering, and 17% volunteered for six or more hours per week [11]. Volunteering is, among other things, associated with increased self-rated health and life satisfaction in older adults [9,13]. ...
... Based on a literature search, we identified and included eight potential confounding variables in our regression models [7,9,10,13,26]. ...
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Background Physical activity (PA) contributes to healthy aging. Several studies have investigated factors influencing PA. However, population-based studies evaluating associations between volunteering and changes in PA are lacking. Our aim was to clarify whether starting and stopping to volunteer is associated with changes in physical activity in older adults. Method We used data from the German Ageing Survey (wave 5 and 6 in the years 2014 and 2017), which is a representative survey of community-dwelling middle-aged and older adults. We included individuals ≥ 65 years (analytical sample: n = 5,682). PA was investigated using questions from the international physical activity questionnaire (IPAQ) and converted into metabolic equivalent of tasks (METs) per week. Changes in volunteering status in groups or organizations (yes/no) and their association with changes in PA were investigated in adjusted asymmetric fixed effects models stratified by sex. Results We found an association, between starting to volunteer and increased physical activity in older adults in the total sample (ß = 1,078.93, p = 0.052). This change reached significance for men (ß = 1,751.54, p = 0.016), but not for women (ß = 187.25, p = 0.832) in the stratified analyses. In the total sample, there was no association between stopping volunteering and decreases in PA (ß = -285.61, p = 0.543). This also held true in the stratified analyses for men (ß = -320.76, p = 0.583) and women (ß = -158.96, p = 0.845). Conclusion Our study identified an association between beginning to volunteer and increased physical activity among older men. Thus, beginning to volunteer may assist older men in increasing their physical activity levels.
... Volunteers experience fewer depressive symptoms and lower healthcare utilization than non-volunteers (36). Volunteering among older adults predicts improved self-rated health, physical function, and physical activity (37,38). In this study, the higher the confirmation of the expectations of the middle-aged and older adult volunteers, the higher the satisfaction. ...
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Background The pursuit of successful aging is currently the most important research and policy issue in an aging society. Participating in voluntary services can help middle-aged and older adults recognize the positive value and benefits of social participation, feel a sense of happiness and accomplishment, and improve their overall life satisfaction, which can also contribute to successful aging. This study wants to understand whether the participation motivation and expectation confirmation of middle-aged and older adult volunteering will affect their continuous participation behavior and successful aging because of the satisfaction of actual participation? Objective This study explores the factors related to middle-aged and older adult volunteering participation and their impact on successful aging. Methods Middle-aged and older adult volunteering from the East Taiwan Community Development Association and community care centers were taken as the research objects. Convenience sampling was used to select volunteers who were over 45 years old (inclusive) and have participated in voluntary services over five (inclusive) times in the last 6 months. Respondents completed the questionnaire through self-completion or face-to-face interviews with the interviewer. The measurement tools include engagement motivation, expectation validation, satisfaction, ongoing engagement, and successful aging. Results A total of 536 questionnaires were distributed of which 498 were valid and 38 invalid. The questionnaire recovery rate was 92.91%. Statistical findings include: (1) Those who perceived that their health was good had a better successful aging status than those who perceived that their health was normal. (2) The volunteering participation motivation and expectation confirmation of middle-aged and older adults significantly affected their volunteer participation satisfaction. (3) Participation motivation and expectation confirmation predicted 50.8% of satisfaction. (4) Satisfaction predicted 47.1% of continuous participation. (5) Continuous participation and satisfaction had a predictive power of 65.1% for successful aging. Conclusion This study confirms that the motivation and expectation of middle-aged and older adult to participate in volunteering will affect their continuous participation behavior and successful aging status through satisfaction. The research results can be used as a reference for the practical work plan of volunteering.
... Engaging in CSP, however, has its merits. For example, involvement in community and civic activities (i.e., essential components of CSP) brings social value and helps older adults sustain/enhance self-esteem (Narushima, 2005;Von Bonsdorff & Rantanen, 2011). However, engaging in CSP--e.g., participating in the neighborhood, community, and cultural activities-is less likely to be prioritized by older adults since it is characterized by building weak social ties (Gil de Zúñiga & Valenzuela, 2011;Zhang & Lu, 2019), which is less likely to provide relational and emotional support desired by older adults with cognitive decline. ...
As individuals age, mental and physical impairment can emerge and impact their well-being. Previous research on social participation in older adults has typically focused on specific activities or failed to distinguish between different forms of participation. In contrast, we propose that social participation is a resource optimization process for older adults, where various forms of participation must be optimized in order to improve well-being outcomes. Drawing on Selective Optimization with Compensation theory, we develop hypotheses on how older adults with cognitive decline select and optimize their social participation profile and how multiple modes of participation synergistically affect their perceived loneliness. Using data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA), we test a polynomial model and find that online social participation has a U-shaped effect on loneliness, while personal-oriented offline social participation mitigates this effect. We also find that the impact of social participation modes varies considerably between younger and older groups. Our findings suggest implications for the design of integrative aging support programs and the use of ICT to promote mental well-being in different stages of advanced age.
... In health-related research, volunteering is often investigated and was shown to contribute to physical and mental well-being, including better self-reported health, lower mortality, and better coping with one's own disease in various populations (Casiday et al., 2008). While the benefits of volunteering in the elderly population have been studied extensively, finding that volunteering contributes to improved well-being (Griep et al., 2017;Von Bonsdorff and Rantanen, 2011;Kahana et al., 2013), there are very few studies about the potential benefits for persons with chronic diseases. Volunteering was shown to moderate the relationship between chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart diseases, or hypertension and the resulting functional limitations (Kail and Carr, 2017), as well as between chronic pain and well-being, physical activity, depression, and meaning in life (Salt et al., 2017). ...
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Background Informal and formal volunteering engagement is a proxy for social integration and may have beneficial effects for physical and mental well-being in persons with multiple sclerosis (pwMS). As literature on the topic among the pwMS is lacking, this study aimed to determine frequency and type of volunteering performed by pwMS and to identify factors associated with volunteering. Methods Cross-sectional, self-reported data of 615 pwMS participating in the Swiss Multiple Sclerosis Registry were analyzed using descriptive statistics to determine frequency and type of performed volunteering engagement in various associations or societies. Univariable and multivariable generalized linear models with binomial distribution and log link function were used to identify factors associated with volunteering. Age, sex, employment status and workload and gait disability were added to the multivariable model as fixed confounders. Sociodemographic, health-, work- and daily activity-related factors were included in the analysis. Results About one third (29.4%) of participants reported engagement in volunteering activities, most often through charities (16.02%) and cultural organizations (14.36%). In the multivariable model, participants who had a university degree were more likely to volunteer (RR = 1.48 95% CI [1.14; 1.91]). The ability to pursue daily activities (as measured by the EQ-5D subscale) was strongly associated with participation in volunteering among pwMS. Compared with pwMS who had no or only slight limitations in daily activities, those with severe problems (RR = 0.41, 95% CI [0.21; 0.80]) were markedly less likely to engage in volunteering. Finally, pwMS who reported caring for and supporting their family (i.e., being a homemaker) were also more likely to engage in volunteering activities (RR = 1.52, 95% CI [1.15; 2.01]). Conclusion Nearly one in three pwMS engaged in diverse volunteering activities. Having a university degree, and being less limited in daily activities, or being a homemaker increased the probability for pursuing volunteering activities. Contingent on individual-level motivations, resources or physical abilities, pwMS who experience challenges in performing daily activities or social barriers should be made aware of barrier-free offers of socially inclusive and volunteering activities, often provided by the national MS societies and health leagues.
... Moreover, previous studies have found a positive association between volunteering and control over life (Cattan et al., 2011;Thoits, 2012;Warburton, 2006), an assumption tested in this article. In terms of causation, volunteering seems to increase control (Adams et al., 2011;Cattan et al., 2011;Thoits, 2012), although the opposite direction is also possible (Von Bonsdorff and Rantanen, 2011). Control is also positively associated with prolonged working life and negatively related to intensive caregiving (Di Novi et al., 2015;Wahrendorf and Siegrist, 2010) among older adults, but only under specific macro-conditions. ...
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A growing body of scholarship examines the social and personal benefits of volunteering across the life course. However, less is known about how this experience of volunteering varies across different national contexts and how the impact of volunteering is shaped by micro- and macro-conditions. This article utilizes a cross-national multilevel regression analysis of European Values Survey data to explore the benefits of volunteering for two distinct sets of aging populations in the EU: those identified as “materialists” and “postmaterialists.” It finds that a positive association between volunteering and one key indicator of quality of life (“control over life”) generally exists for postmaterialists, while it is more positive in countries with stronger familial norms among materialists. Hence, the role of volunteering in later life is not as uniform as suggested by the active aging approach.
... Finally, on a social level, good social relationships affected older people's psychological wellbeing in terms of positive emotions such as a sense of belonging and security (73), encouraging older people to increase their contact with society and actively engage with people to address psychosocial barriers and improve emotional and physical wellbeing (74), which was consistent with other scholars (75,76). The risk of depression can be reduced by encouraging older people to take an active part in voluntary activities to enhance their sense of worth and identity (77). In addition, the state should pay attention to older people's job satisfaction while delaying the retirement age, and choose satisfying jobs that take into account their own interests to further reduce the risk of depression. ...
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This study investigated the effect of using the Internet on depression symptoms of older Chinese, based on 7,801 adults aged over 60 years from the 2018 China Family Panel Studies. Results showed that the elderly who used the Internet reported lower depression scores, and the more frequent they use Internet, the lower their depression scores. Moreover, using the Internet for social contact and entertainment decreased the depression scores of the older adults, but when using Internet for learn, work, and commercial activity, the relief of depressive symptoms disappeared. Therelief of depression symptoms through Internet use were heterogeneous among different groups: the elderly aged 60–70, women, rural residents, and those with lower education attainment. Moreover, Internet use decreased the depression scores by increasing the frequency of contact with their children and increasing the importance of their enjoyment of life. According to the relief of depression by using Internet reasonably, policies should be designed to ensure that all ages could have easy access to the Internet.
... 4 Potential external and personal barriers and facilitators for PA have been investigated for decades. [5][6][7] Sex was found to be an important factor to consider, since men prefer vigorous PA while women prefer moderate and low PA intensities. 8,9 The association between pain and PA has been investigated as well, and pain is suggested to be a barrier to exercise. ...
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Background: Physical activity (PA) is important for healthy ageing. Nonetheless, recommended PA guidelines from the World Health Organization are not met by many older adults. To increase PA, influencing factors have been investigated. But it is still unknown how the onset or disappearance of pain within an individual is associated with different PA intensities in older men and women. Method: We used longitudinal data from the nationwide representative German Ageing Survey, waves 2014 and 2017 (analytical sample, n = 6194, 45% women). PA was assessed with questions on low, moderate, and vigorous PA per week and converted into metabolic equivalent of task (MET) values. Pain was dichotomized from a 5-point scale into no pain versus some pain. The association between the onset or disappearance of pain from 2014 to 2017 on total, vigorous, moderate, and low PA was investigated using sex stratified asymmetric fixed effects models. Results: The onset of pain in older men (ß = 977.84, P = 0.041), and the disappearance of pain in older women (ß = 1531.69, P = 0.025), were associated with increased total PA. The results for men were driven by increases in vigorous (ß = 592.62, P = 0.035) PA, while the change in women was driven by low (ß = 242.16, P = 0.020) and moderate (ß = 496.48, P = 0.034) PA intensities. However, the observed differences between men and women were not statistically significant. Conclusion: The divergent associations between the onset and disappearance of pain and PA, driven by different PA intensities in men and women, suggest the existence of factors such as PA intensity influencing the association.
Social participation is crucial for enhancing senior’s well-being and promoting their integration into society. Using nationwide data investigated in China, this study explored the association between self-reported visual impairment, health level, and social participation among Chinese middle-aged old adults. It has been found that (a) the probability and frequency of social participation among middle-aged and older adults with self-reported vision loss were significantly lower than those without vision problems; (b) self-reported vision loss was negatively associated with self-rated health and mental health status, and both were positively associated with social participation; and (c) self-rated health and mental health played a mediating role between vision loss and social participation. The findings suggest that under the framework of active aging, universal vision screening programs and rehabilitation plans for the older adults with visual impairment are exceedingly significant to promote their participation in social activities, thereby enhancing their quality of life.
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The Volunteering Research Papers aim to capture evidence on a wide range of topics related to volunteering and outline key insights for policy and practice. The Volunteering Research Papers are peer reviewed, and insights will directly inform the development of the National Strategy for Volunteering.
Background : With an ageing population, morbidity and multiple health conditions are an increasing public health concern. This study aimed to investigate how morbidity as measured by the Charlson comorbidity index and two morbidity measures; activity limitation and self-reported health, individually and collectively explain the increased risk of mortality with age. Methods : We used the Northern Ireland Cohort for the Longitudinal Study of Ageing (NICOLA) wave 1, dataset, a national representative sample of people over 50 years of age, with follow-up until 31st May 2020. Cox proportional hazard regression models were used to assess the associations between a modified Charlson comorbidity index (m-Charlson), self-reported health, activity limitation and mortality in the Northern Irish cohort. Results : m-Charlson showed a steeper relationship with age, the proportion of participants with a Charlson of two or more increase from 15.2% (aged 50-59) to 32.0% (aged 80+). All measures of morbidity exhibited a strong relationship with socio-economic status, though the gradients were more marked for self-reported health than for activity limitation or Charlson index. All three morbidity measures were independently related to mortality risk though the associations attenuated with age. However, even in models with all three measures of morbidity, most of the age-related increase in mortality risk remained unexplained. Conclusions : All three morbidity measures carry separate and independent information about the health status of older people and therefore about mortality risk; it is apparent that it is still worth asking patients how they feel and how their health is affecting their activity. Further research should aim to dissect health trajectories in dynamic prediction models in addition to other measures of health status.
Conference Paper
Objectives. Guided by interactional role theory and employing a resilience framework, this study aimed to investigate whether formal volunteering protects older adults with more role-identity absences in major life domains (partner, employment, and parental) from poorer psychological well-being. Methods. We used data from 373 participants, aged 65-74, in the 1995 National Survey of Midlife Development in the U.S. (MIDUS). Multivariate regression models estimated the effects of major role-identity absences, formal volunteering, and the interaction between major role-identity absences and volunteering on respondents' negative affect, positive affect, and purpose in life. Results. Participants with a greater number of major role-identity absences reported more negative affect, less positive affect, and less purpose in life. Being a formal volunteer was associated with more positive affect and moderated the negative effect of having more major role-identity absences on respondents' feelings of purpose in life. Discussion. Consistent with previous studies, findings indicate that having more role-identity absences constitutes a risk factor for poorer psychological well-being. Results further demonstrate that being a formal volunteer can protect older adults with a greater number of major role-identity absences from decreased levels of purpose in life. The findings suggest that associations between volunteering and psychological well-being might be contingent upon the volunteer's role-identity status and the dimension of psychological well-being examined.
Despite recent gains in educational and occupational achievement, black Americans are still worse off than whites across a broad range of quality-of-life indicators. In this article, we analyze survey data on volunteering which show that whites volunteer more than blacks. We ask how much of this difference is due to the way human capital is distributed in the population. We then develop a resource theory of volunteering that acknowledges that, besides human capital, social and cultural resources play a role in making volunteer work possible. Black Americans tend to be better endowed with these kinds of resources than whites, which partially compensates for their shortage of human capital However, blacks are less likely than whites to be asked to volunteer and less likely to accept the invitation if it is made. In the second stage of our analysis, we ask whether there are different pathways to volunteering for blacks and whites. We find that, for all kinds of volunteering except the entirely secular, black volunteering is more influenced by church attendance than is white volunteering, a reflection of the more prominent role of the black church in its community, while socioeconomic differences have a smaller impact on black volunteering. Among volunteers for secular activities, church attendance has a negative effect on volunteering but only for whites.
This article reviews current research and debates on civic service in Western Europe. Drawing a distinction between civic service and traditional volunteering, it traces the history of the concept in the region and the resurgence of government interest in it over the past decade, fueled in particular by the decline in military service brought about by the end of the Cold War. The article explores both the strengths and weaknesses of government action in this field and looks at the challenges facing the voluntary sector in managing its development. It concludes with a review of the evidence of the effect of civic service on the key stakeholder groups and makes recommendations for policy makers, for practitioners, and for further research.
On the basis of data from the 1998 and 2000 waves of the Health and Retirement Study, this study tested two alternative hypotheses, role overload and role extension, about the relationship between volunteering and spousal caregiving among older married persons. Spousal caregiving was not significantly associated with the likelihood of formal or informal volunteering for men; however, female caregivers were found to be less likely than noncaregivers to have engaged in formal or informal volunteering to a certain extent, thus lending partial support to the role overload hypothesis. Functional health status and other human and cultural capital resources were significant predictors of both formal and informal volunteering for both men and women. Future studies need to examine in more depth the effect of spousal caregiving on volunteering, taking caregiving burden and stress into consideration, to more fully understand these two types of productive activity in later life.
Panel data from a sample of 313 women who were wives and mothers in 1956 and were interviewed both in 1956 and in 1986 are used to consider the pathways that lead to health and social integration. Possible relationships were explored between the number, duration, timing, and episodes of various nonfamily roles throughout adulthood and subsequent health and multiple-role occupancy. It was found that occupying multiple roles in 1956, participating in volunteer work on an intermittent basis, and belonging to a club or organization were positively related to various measures of health and that occupying multiple roles in 1956, as well as doing volunteer work, was positively related to occupying multiple roles in 1986.
We construct an integrated theory of formal and informal volunteer work based on the premises that volunteer work is (1) productive work that requires human capital, (2) collective behavior that requires social capital, and (3) ethically guided work that requires cultural capital. Using education, income, and functional health to measure human capital, number of children in the household and informal social interaction to measure social capital, and religiosity to measure cultural capital, we estimate a model in which formal volunteering and informal helping are reciprocally related but connected in different ways to different forms of capital. Using two-wave data from the Americans' Changing Lives panel study, we find that formal volunteering is positively related to human capital, number of children in the household, informal social interaction, and religiosity. Informal helping, such as helping a neighbor, is primarily determined by gender, age, and health. Estimation of reciprocal effects reveals that formal volunteering has a positive effect on helping, but helping does not affect formal volunteering.