Volunteering can reduce mortality in older adults, but motivation matters

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 9.16.25 PM The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Volume 54B Issue 3, Pp. S173-S18. Marc A. Musick, A. Regula Herzog and James S. House, Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan Ann Arbor


Objectives. Although a number of authors have proposed that older volunteers should benefit in terms of better health and well-being, few researchers have examined the issue empirically to see whether this is true. The purpose of this article is to build on this literature by empirically examining the association between volunteering and mortality among older adults.

Methods. Using data from a nationally representative sample, we use Cox proportional hazards regression to estimate the effects of volunteering on the rate of mortality among persons aged 65 and older.

Results. We find that volunteering has a protective effect on mortality among those who volunteered for one organization or for forty hours or less over the past year. We further find that the protective effects of volunteering are strongest for respondents who report low levels of informal social interaction and who do not live alone.

Discussion. We discuss the possibility that the curvilinear relationship we observe between volunteering and mortality is due to a combination of factors, including self-identity, role strain, and meaningfulness. Other research using more precise data is needed to determine whether these ideas are supportable.

And here is a related study on this topic

Motives for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults. Konrath, Sara; Fuhrel-Forbis, Andrea; Lou, Alina; Brown, Stephanie Health Psychology, Vol 31(1), Jan 2012, 87-96. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0025226
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. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)