People over 65 are an important part of the volunteer workforce. Despite overall declining health, they volunteer as frequently (or even more often) than younger population groups. One reason for these high rates of engagement in voluntary work is that retirement allows older people to volunteer more. Peter Eibich, Angelo Lorenti (Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research) and Irene Mosca (Maynooth University) analysed data for the period 2009-2017 from four large ageing surveys covering England, Ireland, Northern Europe, Central Europe, Southern Europe and the U.S. Their findings were recently published in Labour Economics.
They examined how the transition into retirement affects engagement in voluntary work. They found that retirement leads to an increase in volunteer work in all countries or regions included in the study. However, some differences between countries remain. For example, the effect of retirement on voluntary work provision is generally stronger in English-speaking countries, where levels of voluntary work engagement are generally high than in continental Europe, where fewer people across all age groups volunteer. In the three English-speaking countries, retirees tend to spend more time on their existing engagements, whereas retirees in continental Europe are more likely to begin volunteering.
These differences across countries suggest that the pattern of engagement in voluntary work is, in part, shaped by the role of the volunteer sector within the larger welfare state. More remarkable, however, is the consistent relationship between retirement and voluntary work provision across all countries, which implies that older individuals substitute paid work for social engagement.
One important implication of these findings is that current pension reforms may reduce the size of the volunteer workforce. Retirement ages in many countries around the world are increasing, as policy makers aim to extend labour force participation of older individuals to address the challenges posed by population ageing. A potential consequence of longer working lives is that older people will have less time to dedicate to other activities, such as voluntary work provision. Put differently – as labour force participation rates increase among individuals aged 50+, their participation rates in volunteer work might decline. Volunteers provide important services to charities and non-profit organisations with important benefits to the wider society, such as through improved social cohesion. Thus, it is important to consider how public policy can help older workers to reconcile their engagement in voluntary work with paid employment to maintain current rates of volunteer work among the older population.