Volunteering in Later Life: Policies and Programs to Support a Resilient Aging Society
Civic engagement among older adults has gained attention in both the popular and academic press over the last decade. As the health and education of aging Americans continue to increase, so does the opportunity to engage this growing population in civic activities aimed at improving communities. At the same time, this engagement has the potential to promote the health and resiliency of older adults. In this chapter, we focus on formal volunteering, given the vast potential of the aging population to serve communities in these roles. Volunteering can be defined as an activity undertaken by an individual that is aimed at helping others/improving the community, undertaken with free will, unpaid (or minimal compensation to offset costs), and structured by an organization. Evidence suggests that volunteering improves health, mental health, and socialization, and is protective in the face of loss and other challenges of later life. Thus, it has a place in the discussion of resilience as defined in this book, the ability to achieve, retain, or regain a level of physical or emotional health after illness or loss. In this chapter, we review the current status of volunteering among older adults in the United States, and we highlight over three decades of research demonstrating the positive association between volunteering and well-being of older adults. We then consider the relationship of volunteering to resilience. We review current policies and programs that promote volunteering, and finally, we address challenges to wider participation among the older population.
KeywordsVolunteering Social participation Civic engagement
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