Social Productivity of the Older Population: The Case of Volunteering
Many older people are willing and able to stay involved in productive ways, such as volunteering. So far, however, cross-nationally comparable data on the active participation of elders in volunteer work have been scarce. SHARE fills in this gap.With regard to levels of volunteering, the SHARE countries may be divided into three groups. First, the Mediterranean ‘low participation’ countries, where 7 percent of the Italian and only 2 to 3 percent of the Greek and Spanish respondents engaged in volunteer work. Secondly, with 9 to 14 percent volunteers in the population 50+, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Austria exhibit medium activity levels. The remaining ‘high participation’ countries are, thirdly, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands with up to 20 percent volunteers in the older population. Among those who report to have volunteered in the last month, almost one fifth has done so almost daily, nearly half of the volunteers have been engaged almost every week, and slightly more than one third has worked less often. The two most frequently mentioned motivations to volunteer are the desire to contribute something useful (70 percent), followed by the joy derived from volunteering (61 percent).
Volunteering clearly decreases with age. When respondents age 75 or older are compared to younger ones, activity rates drop by at least one third, to an average of 5 percent. Still, in the Nordic countries more than 10 percent of the population 75+ continue to be engaged in voluntary work. The share of volunteers also varies substantially between educational groups. Participation rates generally increase by almost 5 percentage points when respondents with a low degree are compared to those with a medium degree, and by another 7 to 8 percentage points when the highest educational group is considered. Turning to volunteer work and health, we find much lower activity rates among those who perceive their current health status as fair or worse (about 6 percent), compared to those who report a good or better health condition (13 percent). This negative association is corroborated by more objective measures of health. With regard to future developments and policies, it will be important to what extent people will be able to age healthy, and in how far it will be possible to create ‘tailor-made’ work opportunities for older (and frailer) volunteers. At the same time, it is crucial to keep in mind the beneficial aspect of volunteering for those who volunteer: older people shall not be ‘exploited’ for the benefit of others, but will hopefully experience a higher quality of life themselves through their active participation in society.
For more information please have a look at: Ehrenamt, Netzwerkhilfe und Pflege in Europa – Komplementäre oder konkurrierende Dimensionen produktiven Alterns?
MEA Discussion Paper: 123-07, Karsten Hank, Stephanie Stuck
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