Objectives: This study tests the effects of volunteering on the well-being of older adults, including the effect of level of engagement, the moderating effects of demographic and social factors, and the effects of the nature of the volunteer experience.
Methods: This is a secondary data analysis of three waves of data from the Americans' Changing Lives Study. Self-rated health, functional dependency, and depression are regressed on the well-being measures from the previous waves, other control variables and volunteer status, volunteer hours, type and number of volunteer organizations, and the perceived benefit to others of the volunteer work.
Results: Older adults who volunteer and who engage in more hours of volunteering report higher levels of well-being. This positive effect was not moderated by social integration, race, or gender. There was no effect of the number of organizations for which the older adult volunteered, the type of organization, or the perceived benefit of the work to others.
Discussion: This work contributes to a knowledge base that points to the development of social programs and policies that maximize the engagement of older adults in volunteer roles. The findings suggest that targeting efforts may not be warranted, in that there are not differential benefits according to personal characteristics of the volunteer. Future studies have to address the nature of the social institutions that will maximize the number of elders in these roles and the benefits that they accrue.