Motives for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults

Health Psychol. 2012 Jan;31(1):87-96. doi: 10.1037/a0025226. Epub 2011 Aug 15.


Objective: The purpose of this study is to examine the effects of motives for volunteering on respondents' mortality risk 4 years later.

Methods: Logistic regression analysis was used to examine whether motives for volunteering predicted later mortality risk, above and beyond volunteering itself, in older adults from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. Covariates included age, gender, socioeconomic variables, physical, mental, and cognitive health, health risk behaviors, personality traits, received social support, and actual volunteering behavior.

Results: Replicating prior work, respondents who volunteered were at lower risk for mortality 4 years later, especially those who volunteered more regularly and frequently. However, volunteering behavior was not always beneficially related to mortality risk: Those who volunteered for self-oriented reasons had a mortality risk similar to nonvolunteers. Those who volunteered for other-oriented reasons had a decreased mortality risk, even in adjusted models.

Conclusions: This study adds to the existing literature on the powerful effects of social interactions on health and is the first study to our knowledge to examine the effect of motives on volunteers' subsequent mortality. Volunteers live longer than nonvolunteers, but this is only true if they volunteer for other-oriented reasons.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Motivation*
  • Risk
  • Social Support
  • Volunteers / psychology*
  • Wisconsin / epidemiology