Volunteer transitions among older adults: the role of human, social, and cultural capital in later life

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2011 Jul;66(4):490-501. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbr055.


Objectives: We aim to understand how human, social, and cultural capitals are associated with the volunteer process, that is, engagement (starting), intensity (number of hours), and cessation (stopping), among older adults.

Method: Data from the 2000 through 2008 Health and Retirement Study and the 2001 through 2009 Consumption and Activity Mail Survey provide a sample of 4,526 respondents. Random-effects pooled time series analyses incorporate not only the presence of various types of capital but also the quality of that capital.

Results: Human and cultural capitals were positively associated with increased volunteer involvement. Effects of social capital (relationships in the family, employment status, and the community) depended on the quality of the relationships, not necessarily on their presence alone.

Discussion: Results suggest that bolstering older adults' capitals, particularly among lower socioeconomic status groups, can increase volunteer engagement and intensity and reduce cessation. Additionally, a variety of organizational policies including respite programs for caregivers and employer policies allowing employees to reduce their work hours might indirectly affect participation rates and commitment. Potential pools of volunteers exist in families, workplaces, and religious organizations, but more research is necessary to identify how to recruit and retain individuals in social networks where volunteer participatory rates are low.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Caregivers / psychology
  • Community Participation*
  • Cost of Illness
  • Educational Status
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Religion and Psychology
  • Social Environment
  • Social Identification
  • Social Support*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States
  • Volunteers / psychology*