Skip to main content

Advertisement

Log in

Health Outcomes and Volunteering: The Moderating Role of Religiosity

  • Published:
Social Indicators Research Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

In this paper, we examine whether and what extent public and private forms of religiosity act as moderators of the volunteering and well-being relationship in mid- to later-life. We use data from the second wave of the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (n = 1,805). We analyzed the relationships between volunteering and indicators of well-being (self-rated physical and mental health), and tested the moderating effects of public and private religiosity on the volunteering and well-being relationship. Our findings suggest that salubrious effects of volunteering on the self-perceived physical and mental health of middle- aged and older- aged adults varied by their participation in different forms of religiosity. In particular, volunteers who engaged in more public forms of religiosity reported significantly better physical and mental health than non-volunteers who engaged in these forms of religiosity. In other words, individuals who were actively engaged public forms of religious practices and who volunteered, maximized the associated health benefits.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

Notes

  1. There is a difference between volunteering for a religious organization (e.g., teaching church school; serving in the temple soup kitchen) and volunteering through a religious organization (e.g., signing up for a Habitat build with congregation members.

  2. Although scholars have identified a positive link between religiosity and well-being, findings from this research have been far from conclusive (see, Thoresen and Harris 2002).

  3. Although we focus here on relationships between volunteering and health outcomes of both middle- and older- aged adults, it should be noted that some research suggests that the well-being benefits derived from volunteering may actually be stronger for older adults than for their middle-aged (and even younger) adult counterparts (e.g., Musick and Wilson 2003; van Willigen 2000). Volunteering in mid-life, however, still remains an important area of research as functional limitations and poor health may reduce the ability to volunteer in older age.

  4. For reviews of the literature on volunteering and health, see Grimm et al. (2007) Oman (2007).

  5. Correlation between the dependent variables suggests that the measures, although related, are distinct indicators of well-being (r = .55).

  6. Given that the volunteering questions in the MIDUS survey were not mutually exclusive, it is uncertain whether or not individuals responded positively to a single volunteer experience by selecting multiple response options. For example, someone who volunteered with an environmental youth services organization may have indicated that he/she participated in “school or youth-related volunteer work” as well as “volunteer work for any other organization, cause or charity.” Thus, although some scholars have used total volunteer hours from the MIDUS surveys as a variable in their analyses (see for instance, Einolf 2009), it is uncertain whether these values truly reflect the total time respondents actually spent participating in volunteer activities. As such, total number of volunteer hours was not included in this analysis.

  7. Although other researchers (e.g., Einolf 2013; Son and Wilson 2011) have controlled for race when using MIDUS data, 90 per cent of the sample (in MIDUS II, in particular) is white; therefore, we excluded race from our analysis.

  8. We also estimated the models using the natural log of the income variable. The results (not shown) from these estimations did not alter the substantive findings.

  9. OLS regression can often be problematic when estimating a model on an ordinal outcome variable (Long 1997). However, with five or more categories OLS results (which are considered linear probability models, in this instance) can allow for simpler interpretation. Still, in order to verify that our results were not altered by model specification, we also estimated each of the models in this analysis using logit regression analyses. Only our models assessing predictors of mental health status passed the proportionality of odds assumption for ordered logit analysis. Therefore, we estimated our models of physical health status using multinomial regression techniques. In general, most substantive results held, thus leading us to believe that model specification is not a significant concern.

  10. Missing values for most variables were <3.5 %, and in these cases respondents were excluded from the analysis. However, as is common in survey research, the household income variable had a relatively higher amount of missing data (approximately 8 %). As recommended by Allison (2001) the use of listwise deletion is sufficient for missing data <15 %.

References

  • Allison, P. (2001). Missing data. Thousand Oaks California: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ayalon, L. (2008). Volunteering as a predictor of all-cause mortality: What aspects of volunteering really matter? International Psychogeriatrics, 20(5), 1000–1013.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(6), 1173–1182.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Borgonovi, F. (2008). Doing well by doing good: The relationship between formal volunteering and self-reported health and happiness. Social Science and Medicine, 66(11), 2321–2334.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011). Volunteering in the United States. Retrieved August 28, 2012, from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/volun.toc.htm.

  • Cacioppo, J. T., Hawkley, L. C., & Thisted, R. A. (2010). Perceived social isolation makes me sad: 5-year cross-lagged analyses of loneliness and depressive symptomatology in the Chicago Health, Ageing, and Social Relations Study. Psychology and Ageing, 25(2), 453–463.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Einolf, C. (2009). Will the boomers volunteer during retirement? Comparing the baby boom, silent and long civic cohorts. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 38(2), 181–199.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Einolf, C. (2013). Daily spiritual experiences and prosocial behavior. Social Indicators Research, 110(1), 71–87.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Glass, T. A., Mendes de Leon, C. F., Bassuk, S. S., & Berkman, L. F. (2006). Social engagement and depressive symptoms in late life. Journal of Ageing and Health, 18(4), 604–628.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Glock, C. Y. (1962). On the study of religious commitment. Religious Education, 57(4), 98–110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gottlieb, B., & Gillespie, A. (2008). Volunteerism, health, and civic engagement among older adults. Canadian Journal on Ageing, 27(4), 399–406.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Greenfield, E. A., & Marks, N. F. (2004). Formal volunteering as a protective factor for older adults’ psychological well-being. Journal of Gerontology, 59B(5), S258–S264.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Greenfield, E. A., Vaillant, G. E., & Marks, N. F. (2009). Do formal religious participation and spiritual perceptions have independent linkages with diverse dimensions of psychological well-being? Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 50(2), 196–212.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grimm, R, Jr, Spring, K., & Dietz, N. (2007). The health benefits of volunteering: A review of recent research. Washington, DC: Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hank, K., & Stuck, S. (2008). Volunteer work, informal help, and care: Further evidence for ‘linked’ productive activities at older ages. Social Science Research, 37(4), 1280–1291.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harris, A. H., & Thoresen, C. E. (2005). Volunteering is associated with delayed mortality in older people: Analysis of the Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Journal of Health Psychology, 10(6), 739–752.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hirschfelder, M. A., & Reilly, S. L. (2007). Rx: Volunteer a prescription for healthy aging. In S. G. Post (Ed.), Altruism and health: Perspective from empirical research (pp. 116–140). New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Hodgkinson, V. A., Weitzman, M. S., & Kirsch, A. D. (1990). From commitment to action: How religious involvement affects giving and volunteering. Faith and philanthropy in America: Exploring the role of religion in America’s voluntary sector. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Nonprofit Sector Series.

    Google Scholar 

  • House, J. S., Landes, K. R., & Umbertson, D. (1988). Social relationships and health. Science, 214, 540–545.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Husaini, B. A., Blasi, A. J., & Miller, O. (1999). Does public and private religiosity have a moderating effect on depression? A bi-racial study of elders in the American south. International Journal of Ageing and Human Development, 48(1), 63–72.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Idler, E. L., Musick, M. A., Ellison, C. G., George, L. K., Krause, N., Ory, M. G., et al. (2003). Measuring multiple dimensions of religion and spirituality for health research. Research on Ageing, 25(4), 327–365.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kim, J., & Pai, M. (2010). Volunteering and trajectories of depression. Journal of Ageing and Health, 22(1), 84–105.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kim, K. H. C., & Sobal, J. (2004). Religion, social support, fat intake and physical activity. Public Health Nutrition, 7(06), 773–781.

    Google Scholar 

  • Konrath, S., & Brown, S. (2012) The effects of giving on givers. In R. Nicole, & M. Newman (Eds.), Handbook of Health and Social Relationships. APA Books.

  • Konrath, S., Fuhrel-Forbis, A., Lou, A., & Brown, S. (2011). Motives for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults. Health Psychology, 31(1), 87–96.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lakey, B., & Cohen, S. (2000). Social support theory and selecting measures of social support. In S. Cohen, L. U. Gordon, & B. H. Gottlieb (Eds.), Social support measurement and interventions: A guide for health and social scientists. New York: Oxford.

    Google Scholar 

  • Li, Y., & Ferraro, K. F. (2005). Volunteering and depression in later life: Social benefit or selection processes? Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 46(1), 68–84.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Li, Y., & Ferraro, K. F. (2006). Volunteering in middle and later life: Is health a benefit, barrier, or both? Social Forces, 85(1), 497–519.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lin, N., Ye, X., & Ensel, W. M. (1999). Social support and depressed mood: A structural analysis. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 40(4), 344–359.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lum, T. Y., & Lightfoot, E. (2005). The effects of volunteering on the physical and mental health of older people. Research on Ageing, 27(1), 31–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Luoh, M., & Herzog, A. R. (2002). Individual consequences of volunteer and paid work in old age: Health and mortality. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43(4), 490–509.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Martinson, M., & Minkler, M. (2006). Civic engagement and older adults: A critical perspective. The Gerontologist, 46(3), 318–324.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mayou, R. A., Ehlers, A., & Hobbs, M. (2000). Psychological debriefing for road traffic accident victims Three-year follow-up of a randomised controlled trial. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 176(6), 589–593.

    Google Scholar 

  • Midlarsky, E., & Kahana, E. (1994). Altruism in later life. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Midlarsky, E., & Kahana, E. (2007). Altruism, well-being, and health in late life. In Stephen Post (Ed.), Altruism and health: Perspectives from empirical research. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moen, P., Dempster-McClain, D., & Williams, R. M. (1992). Successful ageing: A life course perspective on women’s multiple roles and health. American Journal of Sociology, 97(6), 1612–1638.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Morrow-Howell, N., Hinterlong, J., Rozario, P., & Tang, F. (2003). Effects of volunteering on the well-being of older adults. Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 58(3), S137–S145.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Morrow-Howell, N., Hong, S., & Tang, F. (2009). Who benefits from volunteering? Variations in perceived benefits. The Gerontologist, 49(1), 91–102.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Musick, M., Herzog, A., & House, J. (1999). Volunteering and mortality among older adults: Findings from a national sample. Journal of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 54(3), S173–S180.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Musick, M. A., House, J., & Williams, D. (2004). Attendance at religious services and mortality in a national sample. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 45(2), 198–213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Musick, M. A., & Wilson, J. (2003). Volunteering and depression: The role of psychological and social resources in different age groups. Social Science and Medicine, 56(2), 259–269.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Musick, M. A., & Wilson, J. (2008). Volunteering: A social profile. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Oman, D. (2007). Does volunteering foster physical health and longevity? In S. G. Post (Ed.), Altruism and health: Perspectives from empirical research (pp. 15–32). New York, NY: Oxford University.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Oman, D., Thoresen, C. E., & McMahon, K. (1999). Volunteerism and mortality among the community dwelling elderly. Journal of Health Psychology, 4(3), 301–316.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Piliavin, J. A., & Siegl, E. (2007). Health benefits of volunteering in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 48(4), 450–464.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone. The collapse and revival of American community. NY: Simon & Schuster.

  • Roff, L. L., Klemmack, D. L., Parker, M., Koenig, H. G., Sawyer-Baker, P., & Allman, R. M. (2005). Religiosity, smoking, exercise, and obesity among southern, community- dwelling older adults. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 24(4), 337–354.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Son, J., & Wilson, J. (2011). Generativity and volunteering. Sociological Forum, 26(3), 645–667.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tan, E. J., Rebok, G. W., Yu, Q., Frangakis, C. E., Carlson, M. C., et al. (2009). The long-term relationship between high-intensity volunteering and physical activity in older African American Women. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 64B(2), 304–311.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tan, E., Xue, Q.-L., Li, T., Carlson, M., & Fried, L. (2006). Volunteering: A physical activity intervention for older adults—the experience corps program in Baltimore. Journal of Urban Health, 83(5), 954–969.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Taniguch, H., & Thomas, L. D. (2011). The influence of religious attitudes on volunteering. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 22(2), 335–355.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thoits, P. A., & Hewitt, L. N. (2001). Volunteer work and well-being. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 42(2), 115–131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thoresen, C. E. (1999). Spirituality and health: Is there a relationship? Journal of Health Psychology, 4(3), 291–300.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thoresen, C. E., & Harris, A. H. S. (2002). Spirituality and health: What’s the evidence and what’s needed? Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 24(1), 3–13.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • van Willigen, M. (2000). Differential benefits of volunteering across the life course. Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 55(5), S308–S318.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Willson, M. F. (1993). Dispersal mode, seed shadows, and colonization patterns. Vegetatio, 107(1), 261–280.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, J. (2000). Volunteering. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 215–240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, J. (2012). Volunteerism research: A review essay. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 41(2), 176–212.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, J., & Janoski, T. (1995). The contribution of religion to volunteer work. Sociology of Religion, 56(2), 137–152.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

Partial support for this research was gratefully received from a grant by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Femida Handy.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

McDougle, L., Handy, F., Konrath, S. et al. Health Outcomes and Volunteering: The Moderating Role of Religiosity. Soc Indic Res 117, 337–351 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-013-0336-5

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-013-0336-5

Keywords

Navigation