People likely to benefit most from volunteering are the least likely to get involved

4 January 2017

In its new report The Benefits of Making a Contribution to Your Community in Later Life released today, Ageing Better found that people aged 50 with fewer social connections, lower levels of income and education, and poorer health may have the most to gain from helping others. However, the people who are most likely to volunteer are those who are already relatively wealthy, in good physical and mental health, and with high levels of wellbeing and social connections.  People who could benefit most from developing new friends and increasing their sense of purpose and satisfaction in later life are losing out, because they are less likely to get involved.

Funders and organisations working with volunteers need to address this gap and make it easier for these people to take part.  The Government’s recently-announced £4 million funding to boost volunteering in people aged 50 and over is one opportunity to tackle this.

There is evidence of a ‘volunteering divide’ in later life.  People aged 50 and over are more likely than younger people to be highly committed to voluntary activity.  Indeed, they are responsible for approximately 40 per cent of all the volunteering, charitable giving and civic participation in the UK.  But conversely this age group are also more likely than others not to make any contributions at all, with a large proportion completely disengaged.

Older woman in the wood wearing a red and white shirt holding a bag of fresh fiddleheads to transplant.

Those working with older people or funding volunteering activities can be confident that there are wellbeing benefits for people in later life of making a contribution to the community. There is good evidence that older people who make voluntary contributions report:

• an increase in the quantity and quality of their social connections

• an enhanced sense of purpose and self-esteem

• improved life satisfaction, happiness and wellbeing

Where people in later life feel valued and appreciated in their formal volunteering roles, there is evidence that this contributes to reduced depression.

Organisations do not need to spend further time and money demonstrating these outcomes again.

People with higher levels of health, wealth, social connections and wellbeing are more likely to volunteer in the first place, and the evidence suggests that these characteristics are both causes and consequences of contributing. The benefits of making a contribution are real, but they are not transformational.

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