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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2012 Jul;67(4):514-24. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbs051. Epub 2012 May 15.

Participation in voluntary organizations and volunteer work as a compensation for the absence of work or partnership? Evidence from two German samples of younger and older adults.

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  • 1Jena Graduate School "Human Behaviour in Social and Economic Change", Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany.



We tested whether formal volunteering, in terms of its associations with mental health, compensates for the absence of major work and family roles among older adults or rather complements such roles among both younger and older adults.


Two cross-sectional samples of younger (aged 18-42 years, N = 2,346) and older (aged 56-75 years, N = 1,422) German adults were used. We regressed mental health indicators on control variables, 2 indicators of formal volunteering (participation in voluntary organizations and volunteer work), and their interactions with employment/partnership status.


Participation in voluntary organizations was associated with higher positive affect, higher life satisfaction, and fewer depressive symptoms in younger adults. In older adults, it was related to higher life satisfaction only among working individuals, although the difference from nonworking individuals was not significant. Volunteer work was associated with higher positive affect in both age groups. In younger adults, it had no relation to life satisfaction and depressive symptoms. In older adults, it was related to higher life satisfaction among nonworking individuals and to fewer depressive symptoms among those without a steady partner.


Volunteer work but not participation in voluntary organizations yielded compensatory effects on mental health among older adults.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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