Recovering from spousal bereavement in later life: does volunteer participation play a role?

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2007 Jul;62(4):S257-66. doi: 10.1093/geronb/62.4.s257.


Objectives: Volunteering is an important component of social life but may be interrupted by life events. This research investigated how widowhood influences subsequent volunteer participation as well as the potential moderating effect volunteer participation may have in coping with the death of a spouse.

Methods: Analysis of three waves (1986-1994) of longitudinal data from the Americans' Changing Lives study tested (a) the effect of widowhood on volunteer participation, (b) the influence of the timing since becoming widowed on volunteering and personal well-being, and (c) the interaction effects of volunteering and widowhood on personal well-being. A cross-sectional time-series design is used to test relationships with people aged 50 years and older at baseline.

Results: Compared with their continually married counterparts, people who experienced spousal loss reported greater likelihood of pursuing volunteer roles, not immediately but a few years after the death of their spouse. Volunteer roles adopted after spousal loss protected against depressive symptoms, and increases in volunteer hours enhanced self-efficacy.

Discussion: These patterns highlight the compensatory function of volunteer participation that helps to offset the negative impact of widowhood on well-being in later life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Age Factors*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bereavement*
  • Depression / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life
  • Self Efficacy
  • Spouses*
  • Volunteers*
  • Widowhood / psychology*