The Value of Volunteering: Racial Differences in Perceptions of Aging among Older Volunteers

Research has shown that how we perceive aging can have a significant effect on our health and wellness. Self-perceptions of aging (SPA) can be positive, such as feeling empowered about growing older, or negative, such as connecting aging with decline. Although research has shown that these beliefs about aging can impact older adults’ health, less is known about differences in SPA among different racial and ethnic groups. Recent research is exploring how Black and White older adults may hold differing perceptions of aging, as well as examining how volunteering may have a positive effect on SPA across both racial groups.  

In order to examine Black and White older adults’ perceptions of aging and how volunteering may impact these perceptions, researchers used data from the Health and Retirement Study, an ongoing longitudinal study of older adults. Utilizing a sample of over 10,000 participants aged 50 and better from this study, researchers found that Black participants had more positive and less negative SPA at baseline and experienced flatter time-related changes in SPA when compared to White participants. However, when examining the effect of volunteering on SPA, they found that volunteering was associated with more positive and less negative SPA only for White older adults. This indicates that although Black older adults may have more positive perceptions of aging, White older adults may uniquely have the protective factor of volunteering to help them perceive aging more positively. 

Although this study found that volunteering may positively impact SPA, more research is needed to investigate why this effect did not apply across racial groups, as well as explore additional protective factors that also apply to Black older adults. By examining ways to increase positive perceptions of aging, future research may in turn be able to improve health outcomes for all older adults.  

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Huo, M., Kim, K., & Haghighat, M. D. (2023). Changes in self-perceptions of aging among black and white older adults: The role of volunteering. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. 

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