Volunteering Helps Unemployed Older Workers' Mental Health: How, Why, and Does It Work for All?

TitleVolunteering Helps Unemployed Older Workers' Mental Health: How, Why, and Does It Work for All?
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsYang, J
Academic DepartmentSocial Work
Number of Pages93
UniversityBoston College
Thesis Typephd
ISBN Number9780438245907
Keywords0452:Social work, health, Helps, Mental, Older, Social Sciences, Social work, Unemployed, Volunteering, Work, Workers

Despite the fact that older workers (50+) are much overrepresented among the long-term unemployed and often suffer from multiple mental health problems, the social work literature has rarely tackled this issue. In my dissertation, guided by Jahoda’s Latent Deprivation Theory and the productive aging framework, I examined the positive coping strategies of unemployed older workers. I set out to understand whether engaging in formal volunteering in an organization would buffer the negative impact of unemployment on older workers’ mental health. I also fill out the gap in the literature regarding the mechanism of the positive effect of volunteering on mental health by examining two latent benefits from working as mediators: purpose in life and perceived social status. I used fixed effects modeling for the moderation analysis. I analyzed six waves (12 years) of longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). I used structural equation modeling and analyzed two waves of HRS for the mediation analysis. I used full information maximum likelihood method to handle missing values. I found that there was a significant moderation between engaging in formal volunteering and unemployment status on older workers’ depressive symptoms. Unemployed older workers who engaged in volunteering fared better than those unemployed workers who did not volunteer. Consistent with previous studies using the HRS, I also found that those unemployed older workers who volunteered over 200 hours/year did not benefit from volunteering compared to those volunteered under 100 hours/year. Mediation analysis results showed that perceived social status and purpose in life mediate the protective effect of volunteering. Both the moderation and mediation results varied by race and ethnicity. Results from this dissertation have important implications for future intervention development. For example, interventions targeting the unemployed older workers may incorporate formal volunteering as one element for participants to gain social contact, purpose in life, and enhance perceived social status. Interventions can also create an environment that mirrors an office to enhance these latent benefits (mediators) in order to improve mental health.


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Citation Key10300