Volunteering, Self-Perceptions of Aging, and Mental Health in Later Life.

TitleVolunteering, Self-Perceptions of Aging, and Mental Health in Later Life.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsHuo, M, Miller, LMSoederbe, Kim, K, Liu, S
ISSN Number1758-5341
Keywordsage stereotype, depression, Subjective aging, volunteer

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Scholars argue that volunteering enhances social, physical, and cognitive activities that are increasingly valued as people age, which in turn improves older adults' well-being via a host of psychosocial and neurobiological mechanisms. This study explicitly tested older adults' self-perceptions of aging as a mechanism underlying the mental health benefits of volunteering.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS: Using 2-wave data from the Health and Retirement Study (2008/2010 for Wave 1 and 2012/2014 for Wave 2), we analyzed reports from a pooled sample of older adults aged 65+ (N = 9,017). Participants reported on demographic characteristics, volunteer work (did not volunteer, 1-99 hours per year, 100+ hours per year), self-perceptions of aging, and depressive symptoms. We estimated an autoregressive cross-lagged panel model.

RESULTS: Volunteering for 100 hours or more per year was associated with older adults' more positive and less negative self-perceptions of aging in the subsequent wave (i.e., 4 years later), which in turn predicted fewer depressive symptoms.

DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS: This study suggests the promising role of volunteering in shaping older adults' self-perceptions of aging on a sustained basis and refines our understanding of the benefits volunteering brings. Findings shed light on future interventions aimed at improving older adults' adjustment to age-related changes and lessening ageism in society.

Citation Key11174
PubMed ID33103726