Thursday, May 24, 2007

How Volunteering Can Benefit Older Adults

Libraries are often interested in promoting volunteerism in older adults and encouraging their participation in library programing and intergenerational programs (see the excellent list of older adult services by Allan Kleiman). These libraries may also be looking for grants to fund such programs. It could be useful in grant applications to cite the Social Science research that shows the individual benefits from volunteering. I will be discussing some of the published papers about the benefits of volunteering in this post, so that it can be a handy starting point for librarians seeking this data.

Volunteering has many significant benefits for individuals, from an increased sense of well being, to increased social bonding and ego gratification (Cutler & Hendricks, 2000, p. s99). Individuals can also gain more social support (Cutler & Hendricks, 2000).

Morrow-Howell et al. (2003) studied older adults, which they defined as people 60 years of age and older. Morrow-Howell et al. (2003) found that the reported level of well-being increased as the number of hours people volunteered increased. This result was independent of the type of volunteer organization, the number of volunteer organizations to which the individual belonged, or the race or gender of the volunteer. As a result, this benefit is universal for older adults.

Greenfield and Marks (2004)
investigated the effects of formal volunteering on older adults' psychological well being. They found that volunteering had a positive effect on psychological well being and the it helped to offset the negative effects of no longer having a spouse, no longer having a job, or not having any living children. They conclude that volunteering helps older adults to "be cheerful and happy in later adulthood" (p. S265).

Musick, Herzog, and House (1999) actually found that volunteering had a protective effect against mortality for people aged 65 and older who volunteered 40 hours or less within the past year!

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