Aging Clinical and Experimental Research

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 162–169 | Cite as

Benefits of formal voluntary work among older people. A review

  • Mikaela B. von Bonsdorff
  • Taina Rantanen
Review Article


Background and aims: 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. Methods: 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. Results: 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. Conclusions: 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.


Formal volunteering health older people post-retirement well-being 


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Copyright information

© Springer Internal Publishing Switzerland 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Gerontology Research Centre, Department of Health SciencesUniversity of JyväskyläFinland
  2. 2.GeroCenter Foundation for Research and DevelopmentJyväskyläFinland
  3. 3.The Central Finland Health Care DistrictJyväskyläFinland

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