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Senior volunteering indicates well-being

Retirees who volunteer or participate in community organizations enjoy significantly higher levels of psychological and physical well-being than other retirees and older workers. The reason: Volunteering probably connects retirees socially and provides routines, rituals and additional roles, according to a Cornell University study.

Although older working people volunteer at the same rate as retired persons, their level of well-being is not significantly enhanced by community service.

"That's probably because the employed already benefit from the social connectedness on their jobs." This according to Cornell sociologist Phyllis Moen who is the Ferris Family Professor in Life Course Studies in human development and sociology and co-director of the Cornell Gerontology Research Institute and director of the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center at Cornell.

Measures of well-being are defined by Moen as including a sense of mastery over one's life, self-esteem, life satisfaction and energy level.

"The fact that the still-employed do not reap the same kind of benefits from volunteering as do the retired suggests that community participation compensates for the social and psychological benefits of employment among retirees," says Moen. "Since paid work seems to give workers a sense of purpose and well-being in the prime adult years, our study suggests that volunteering in community organizations does the same for retirees."

Moen recommends that the middle-aged become active in their communities early on, since volunteering rates don't rise with retirement. "Community participation gives retirees additional roles in their lives, a sense of purpose and a strong sense of being connected. And being socially connected is a powerful predictor for high levels of well-being in older life," she says.

To examine the links between community participation and well-being, Moen and Vivian Fields, a Cornell research associate, examined data from the Cornell Retirement and Well-being Study. The study, funded by the National Institute on Aging through its support of the Cornell Gerontology Research Institute, is based on three interviews with 763 older workers and retirees from six companies in upstate New York.

Among Moen's and Fields' findings:

-- Almost 30 percent of the retirees and older workers tended to participate in their communities. This was true of both men and women.

-- Although about the same proportion of male and female retirees participated in their communities, women put in more time volunteering. About 45 percent of men volunteered more than 10 hours a month compared with 62 percent of women.

-- Many retired men -- about one-third -- continued to work after retirement, compared with only about one-fifth of female retirees. Paid employment after retirement was linked to well-being for men but not for women.

-- The levels of well-being and the benefits of volunteering were strongest among retirees with higher education and income, suggesting an "accumulation of advantage" effect. However, volunteers in poor health and with low incomes also had higher levels of well-being than their counterparts who did not volunteer.

The research also was supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Related World Wide Web sites: The following sites provide additional information on this news release. Some might not be part of the Cornell University community, and Cornell has no control over their content or availability.

-- For information about the meetings of the American Sociological Association:

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