When Volunteers Vamoose: Why Older Adults Stop Volunteering

Volunteering by older adults not only provides important societal benefits, but has also been shown to have positive impacts on the health of those who volunteer. (For example, see  here.) In light of the numerous benefits of volunteering and an ongoing need for volunteers, it is important to look at why individuals cease volunteering. A recent study measured a number of aspects of volunteering for a group of older adults, and then looked at what factors contributed to some discontinuing volunteering activities three years later.

Surprisingly, earlier research showed that volunteer satisfaction and enjoyment were not directly associated with older adults ceasing to volunteer. In light of this, researchers looked at whether volunteer satisfaction and enjoyment might impact other aspects of the volunteering experience that were more directly associated with volunteering cessation.

When the researchers looked more closely at what led to continued volunteering after three years, they found that as the number of hours spent volunteering increased, so did the likelihood that the older adults were still volunteering. They also found that increasing age was associated with a lower likelihood of continuing to volunteer.

Digging a bit deeper, the researchers then looked at what other factors were correlated with the number of volunteer hours worked. Here, they finally found how volunteer satisfaction and enjoyment played a role. Both enjoyment and satisfaction were independently correlated with the number of volunteer hours worked. They suggest that volunteer satisfaction may affect hours volunteered by fulfilling the reasons that the older adults had for volunteering, while volunteer enjoyment may be related to the person’s intrinsic motivation to volunteer. In addition to those two factors, the other variables associated with volunteer hours were greater informal social interaction, education, and attending clubs and organizations.

By understanding these pathways that lead to volunteer cessation, it becomes possible to identify ways that ongoing and sustained volunteer participation can be supported and encouraged. Ways to foster satisfaction and enjoyment are important, but this research also suggests that paying attention to hours available to volunteer and encouraging greater amount of time engaging in volunteering could also prove beneficial.



Okun M, Infurna FJ, and Hutchinson I. Are volunteer satisfaction and enjoyment related to cessation of volunteering by older adults? Journals of Gerontology B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences. (2016); 71(3): 439–444.

Self-Fulfilling ProphecyHow Perceptions of Aging Affect Our Later Years

Learn how older adults’ perceptions of aging—and their self-perceptions—can have serious effects on their health, behaviors, and even longevity.

Download FREE Copy

    Add insight to your inbox

    Join our email list to receive information about the latest research from Mather Institute. Just complete the form below to subscribe.

    Thank you!

    You are now subscribed to the email list.
    A confirmation has been sent to the email you provided.

    Continue to Website Share with a Friend