Volunteering and Wellbeing Among Ageing Adults: A Longitudinal Analysis

Abstract

Previous scholarship has shown evidence of a positive relationship between volunteering and improved measures of mental and physical wellbeing. It has also been suggested that volunteering may help individuals navigate transitions between different life stages by encouraging them to become more involved in their communities, thereby building new social connections and improving networks of social support. Using Waves 2 and 3 of panel data from the Midlife in the United States Survey, we examined whether volunteering can buffer against the negative effects of low self-esteem on correlates of psychosocial wellbeing in adults from mid- to later-life. Results indicated that participation in volunteering mitigates the negative effects of adults’ low self-esteem on their sense of belonging and life satisfaction. In particular, we determined the adverse effect of negative self-esteem at time T1 on our wellbeing measures (belonging to the community and life satisfaction) at T2 above and beyond the effects of the same measures at T1 and the covariates. Furthermore, we found positive evidence for the moderating influence of volunteering on the relationship between negative self-esteem and both measures of wellbeing, although the effect was stronger for life satisfaction than for belonging. These conclusions suggest that volunteering acts as a buffer for ageing adults, with possible public health implications.

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

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  1. Adams, K. B., Leibbrandt, S., & Moon, H. (2011). A critical review of the literature on social and leisure activity and wellbeing in later life. Ageing & Society, 31, 683–712.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Andersson, M. A., & Glanville, J. L. (2016). The contingent effects of mental well-being and education on volunteering. Society and Mental Health, 6(2), 90–105.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 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 

  4. Bai, H. (2015). Current issues on propensity score matching: Matching with/without replacement, common support, and sample ratio. In W. Pan & H. Bai (Eds.), Propensity score analysis: Fundamentals, developments and extensions. New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Baltes, M. M., & Carstensen, L. L. (1996). The process of successful ageing. Ageing & Society, 16, 397–422.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Biddle, B. J. (1986). Recent developments in role theory. Annual Review of Sociology, 12, 67–92.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Binder, M. (2015). Volunteering and life satisfaction: A closer look at the hypothesis that volunteering more strongly benefits the unhappy. Applied Economic Letters, 22(11), 874–885.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Binder, M., & Freytag, A. (2013). Volunteering, subjective well-being and public policy. Journal of Economic Psychology, 34, 97–119.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Borgonovi, F. (2008). Doing well by doing good: The relationship between formal volunteering and selfreported health and happiness. Social Science & Medicine, 66, 2321–2334.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Boudiny, K. (2013). ‘Active ageing’: From empty rhetoric to effective policy tool. Ageing & Society, 33, 1077–1098.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Brown, K. M., Hoye, R., & Nicholson, M. (2012). Self-esteem, self-efficacy, and social connectedness as mediators of the relationship between volunteering and well-being. Journal of Social Service Research, 38(4), 468–483.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Carlton, S. (2015). Reprint of: Connecting, belonging: Volunteering, wellbeing and leadership among refugee youth. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 14, 160–167.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Caro, F. G., & Bass, S. A. (1997). Receptivity to volunteering in the immediate postretirement period. The Journal of Applied Gerontology, 16(4), 427–441.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Cattan, M., White, M., Bond, J., & Learmouth, A. (2005). Preventing social isolation and loneliness among older people: A systematic review of health promotion interventions. Ageing & Society, 25, 41–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Chen, C. M., Yeh, C. Y., & Chang, C. H. (2014). Volunteering and life satisfaction: An investigation of endogeneity. Hitotsubashi Journal of Economics, 55, 21–32.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Choi, N. G., & Kim, J. (2011). The effect of time volunteering and charitable donations in later life on psychological wellbeing. Ageing & Society, 31, 590–610.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Cox, C. B. (2015). Social policy for an aging society: A human rights perspective. New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  18. De Wit, A., Bekkers, R., Karamat Ali, D., & Verkaik, D. (2015). Welfare impacts of participation. In Deliverable 3.3 of the project: “Impact of the Third Sector as Social Innovation” (ITSSOIN), European Commission—7th Framework Programme, Brussels: European Commission, DG Research.

  19. Diener, E., & Diener, M. (1995). Cross-cultural correlates of life satisfaction and self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68(4), 653–663.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Duncan, D. F., & Whitney, R. J. (1990). Work and the mental well-being of the elderly. Psychological Reports, 66, 882.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Einolf, C. J. (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 

  22. Einolf, C. J. (2010). Gender differences in the correlates of volunteering and charitable giving. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 40(6), 1092–1112.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Einolf, C., & Chambré, S. M. (2011). Who volunteers? Constructing a hybrid theory. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 16(4), 298–310.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Enjolras, B. (2015). The impact of volunteering on volunteers in 23 European countries, TSI working paper series no. 4, Seventh Framework Programme (grant agreement 613034), European Union. Brussels: Third Sector Impact.

  25. Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man’s search for meaning. Boston: Beacon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Gergen, K. J., & Gergen, M. M. (2001). Positive aging: New images for a new age. Ageing International, 27(1), 3–23.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Gonyea, J. G., & Googins, B. K. (2007). Expanding the boundaries of corporate volunteerism: Tapping the skills, talent, and energy of retirees. Generations, 30(4), 78–84.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Gonzales, E., Matz-Costa, C., & Morrow-Howell, N. (2015). Increasing opportunities for the productive engagement of older adults: A response to population aging. The Gerontologist, 55(2), 252–261.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Greenfield, E. A., & Marks, N. F. (2004). Formal volunteering as a protective factor for older adults’ psychological well-being. The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 59(5), S258–S264.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Han, C. K., & Hong, S. L. (2012). Trajectories of volunteering and self-esteem in later life: Does wealth matter? Research on Ageing, 35(5), 571–590.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Handy, F., & Greenspan, I. (2009). Immigrant volunteering: A stepping stone to integration? Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 38(6), 956–982.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Haski-Leventhal, D. (2009). Elderly volunteering and well-being: A cross-European comparison based on SHARE data. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 20, 388–404.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Hinterlong, J. E., & Williamson, A. (2007). The effects of civic engagement of current and future cohorts of older adults. Generations, 30(4), 10–17.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Huang, Y. (2016). Downward social comparison increases life-satisfaction in the giving and volunteering context. Social Indicators Research, 125(2), 665–676.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Jenkinson, C. E., Dickens, A. P., Jones, K., Thompson-Coon, J., Taylor, R. S., Rogers, M., et al. (2013). Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. BMC Public Health, 13, 773.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. King, H. R., Jackson, J. J., Morrow-Howell, N., & Oltmanns, T. F. (2014). Personality accounts for the connection between volunteering and health. Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 70(5), 691–697.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Komp, K., van Tilburg, T., & van Groenou, M. B. (2012). Age, retirement, and health as factors in volunteering in later life. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 41(2), 280–299.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Kwok, Y. Y., Chui, W. H., & Wong, L. P. (2013). Need satisfaction mechanism linking volunteer motivation and life satisfaction: A mediation study of volunteers subjective well-being. Social Indicators Research, 114(3), 1315–1329.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Leary, M. R. (1999). Making sense of self-esteem. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8(1), 32–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Lee, R. D. (2014). Macroeconomic consequences of population aging in the United States: Overview of a National Academy report. The American Economic Review, 104(5), 234–239.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Lee, R. M., & Robbins, S. B. (1998). The relationship between social connectedness and anxiety, self-esteem, and social identity. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 45(3), 338–345.

    Article  Google Scholar 

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 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 

  44. Lin, N., & Peek, M. K. (1999). Social networks and mental health. In A. V. Horwitz & T. L. Scheid (Eds.), A handbook for the study of mental health: Social contexts, theories, and systems (pp. 241–258). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Matz-Costa, C., Besen, E., James, J. B., & Pitt-Catsouphes, M. (2012). Differential impact of multiple levels of productive activity engagement on psychological well-being in middle and later life. The Gerontologist, 54(2), 277–289.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. McDougle, L., Handy, F., Konrath, S., & Walk, M. (2013). Health outcomes and volunteering: The moderating role of religiosity. Social Indicators Research, 117(2), 337–351.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Mellor, D., Hayashi, Y., Firth, L., Stokes, M., Chambers, S., & Cummins, R. (2008). Volunteering and wellbeing: Do self-esteem, optimism, and perceived control mediate the relationship? Journal of Social Service Research, 34(4), 61–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Mirucka, B., Bielecka, U., & Kisielewska, M. (2016). Positive orientation, self-esteem, and satisfaction with life in the context of subjective age in older adults. Personality and Individual Differences, 99, 206–210.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Moen, P. (1996). A life course perspective on retirement, gender, and well-being. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 1(2), 131–144.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Moksnes, U. K., & Espnes, G. A. (2013). Self-esteem and life satisfaction in adolescents–gender and age as potential moderators. Quality of Life Research, 22(10), 2921–2928.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Mollidor, C., Hancock, N., & Pepper, M. (2015). Volunteering, religiosity, and well-being: Interrelationships among Australian churchgoers. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 18(1), 20–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Morrow-Howell, N. (2010). Volunteering in later life: Research frontiers. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 65B(4), 461–469.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Morrow-Howell, N., Halvorsen, C. J., Hovmand, P., Lee, C., & Ballard, E. (2017). Conceptualizing productive engagement in a system dynamics framework. Innovation in Aging, 00(00), 1–13.

    Google Scholar 

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. 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 

  57. Nolan, L. C. (2011). Dimensions of aging and belonging for the older person and the effects of ageism. BYU Journal of Public Law, 25, 317–339.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Oman, D., Thoresen, C. E., & McMahon, K. (1999). Volunteering and well-being among the communitydwelling elderly. Journal of Health Psychology, 4(3), 301–316.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Penner, L. A., & Finkelstein, M. A. (1998). Dispositional and structural determinants of volunteerism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(2), 525–537.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. 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 

  61. Piliavin, J. A., & Siegl, E. (2015). Health and well-being consequences of formal volunteering. In D. A. Schroeder & W. G. Graziano (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of prosocial behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Pillemer, K., Fuller-Rowell, T. E., Reid, M. C., & Wells, N. M. (2010). Environmental volunteering and health outcomes over a 20-year period. The Gerontologist, 50(5), 594–602.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Poo, A. (2015). The age of dignity: Preparing for the elder boom in a changing America. New York: The New Press.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Rosenbaum, P. R., & Rubin, D. B. (1983). The central role of the propensity score in observational studies for causal effects. Biometrika, 70, 41–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Rosenbaum, P. R., & Rubin, D. B. (1985). Constructing a control group using multivariate matched sampling methods that incorporate the propensity score. The American Statistician, 39(1), 33–38.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Rotolo, T. (2000). A time to join, a time to quit: The influence of life cycle transitions on voluntary association membership. Social Forces, 78(3), 1133–1161.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Ryff, C., et al. (2006). National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS II), 2004–2006. ICPSR04652-v6. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2012–04-18. https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR04652.v6.

  68. Ryff, C., et al. (2014). National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS III), 2013-2014. ICPSR36346-v4. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2016-03-10.

  69. Sherman, A., & Shavit, T. (2012). How the lifecycle hypothesis explains volunteering during retirement. Ageing & Society, 32(8), 1360–1381.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Smith, D. B. (2004). Volunteering in retirement: Perceptions of midlife workers. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 33(1), 55–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Son, J., & Wilson, J. (2011). Generativity and volunteering. Sociological Forum, 26(3), 644–667.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Son, J., & Wilson, J. (2012). Volunteer work and hedonic, eudemonic, and social well-being. Sociological Forum, 27(3), 658–681.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Son, J., & Wilson, J. (2015). The psycho-social processes linking income and volunteering: Chronic financial strain and well-being. Sociological Forum, 30(4), 1059–1081.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Stukas, A. A., Hoye, R., Nicholson, M., Brown, K. M., & Aisbett, L. (2014). Motivations to volunteer and their associations with volunteers’ well-being. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 45(1), 112–132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. Syu, J., Yu, M., Chen, P., & Chung, P. (2013). The effects of marriage on volunteering and mental health: Moderated mediation analysis. Quality and Quantity, 47(5), 2447–2457.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. Tabassum, F., Mohan, J., & Smith, P. (2016). Association of volunteering with mental well-being: A lifecourse analysis of a national population-based longitudinal study in the UK. British Medical Journal Open. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2016-011327.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  77. Tang, F. (2015). Retirement patterns and their relationship to volunteering. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 45(5), 910–930.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  78. Taniguchi, H. (2006). Men’s and women’s volunteering: Gender differences in the effects of employment and family characteristics. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 35(1), 83–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  80. 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 

  81. 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 

  82. Vignoles, V. L., Regalia, C., Manzi, C., Golledge, J., & Scabini, E. (2006). Beyond self-esteem: Influence of multiple motives on identity construction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(2), 308–333.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  83. Whillans, A. V., Seider, S. C., Chen, L., Dwyer, R. J., Novick, S., Gramigna, K. J., et al. (2017). Does volunteering improve well-being? Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology, 1(1–3), 35–50.

    Google Scholar 

  84. Wiesmann, U., & Hannich, H. (2013). The contribution of resistance resources and sense of coherence to life satisfaction in older age. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 911–928.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  85. Ye, S., Yu, L., & Li, K.-K. (2012). A cross-lagged model of self-esteem and life satisfaction: Gender differences among Chinese university students. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 546–551.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  86. Zedlewski, S. R., & Schaner, S. G. (2005). Older adults’ engagement should be recognized and encouraged. Perspectives on Productive Ageing, 1. The Urban Institute Retirement Project. Available online at http://www.urban.org/research/publication/older-adults-engagement-should-be-recognized-and-encouraged. Accessed 31 January 31 2018.

Download references

Funding

In partial support, Allison R. Russell has received a Summer Research Fellowship from the School of Social Policy and Practice, University of Pennsylvania, and Arjen de Wit Vrije received a travel grant from the Graduate School of Social Sciences at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Femida Handy.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Russell, A.R., Nyame-Mensah, A., de Wit, A. et al. Volunteering and Wellbeing Among Ageing Adults: A Longitudinal Analysis. Voluntas 30, 115–128 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-018-0041-8

Download citation

Keywords

  • Volunteering
  • Belonging
  • Life satisfaction
  • Self-esteem
  • Wellbeing