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The Relation of Volunteering and Subsequent Changes in Physical Disability in Older Adults

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To describe the association between initiating volunteering and changes in physical disability in older adults, and whether intensity and gender modify this relationship.


Employing propensity score weighted regression adjustment, we calculate changes in disability using a sample of U.S. adults (n = 7,135) in the Health and Retirement Study (1996–2012) not volunteering at baseline but later initiating volunteering (1–99 hr/year or 100+ hours per year) or remaining a nonvolunteer.


Relative to continuous nonvolunteers, low-intensity volunteering is related to 34% lower disability in the low-intensity group (average treatment effect [ATE] = −0.12) and 63% lower in the higher-intensity group (ATE = −0.23). For men, progression was lower only in the highest intensity group (ATE = +0.02), but women experienced similarly less progression of disability (38%–39%) at either level of new engagement (ATE = −0.17 and −0.18).


Initiating a new volunteer role in later life is related to decreased progression of disability, at low or high levels for women and only at higher levels for men. This study suggests that volunteer intervention programs may represent a major public health strategy to delay the progression of physical disability for older adults.


  • By

    The Journals of Gerontology

  • Published

    Apr 19, 2023

  • Subject Area
    • Volunteer Management
    • General Health and Wellness
    • Physical Activity
  • Audience
    • Academics
    • Service Providers (Non-profits, Community Organizations, Local government)
    • Government (Politicians, Policy Makers) and Health Authorities
  • Category
    • Volunteers
    • Research & Reports
    • Research & Evidence
    • Evidence-based & emerging practices


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