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

Meng Huo, Lisa M.Soederberg Miller, Kyungmin Kim, Siwei Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

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 or older (N = 9,017). Participants reported on demographic characteristics, volunteer work (did not volunteer, 1-99 h/year, 100+ h/year), self-perceptions of aging, and depressive symptoms. We estimated an autoregressive cross-lagged panel model. Results: Volunteering for 100 h 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1131-1140
Number of pages10
JournalGerontologist
Volume61
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021

Keywords

  • Age stereotype
  • Depression
  • Health and Retirement Study
  • Subjective aging
  • Volunteer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gerontology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology

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