Quality of Engagement in Work, Volunteering, and Caregiving in Later Life and Its Relationship to Well-Being
Methods. Using data from the 2010 Life & Times in an Aging Society Study, we employ a treatment effects model to test the impact of four levels of engagement (not involved, and low, medium, and high engagement) on subjective well-being among a sample of 330 adults age 50 to 83. Physical health, age, household income, education, marital status, gender, and involvement in other productive roles were considered as covariates.
Results. Consistent with activity theory, continuity theory, and the successful aging paradigm, across all activities, those who were high in engagement reported higher well-being than those who were not involved in the role. However, contrary to these theories and in line with Kahn’s Personal Engagement theory, those who were low in engagement consistently reported lower levels of well-being than those not involved in the role. These findings suggest that just staying involved in and of itself may not be the key to mental health in later life; instead the quality of one's experience with paid work, volunteering, and caregiving plays an important role in the extent to which involvement leads to positive outcomes.
Conclusions and Implications: These analyses have several implications for practice settings with older adults. In general, analyses suggest that quality of paid work, volunteer, and caregiving roles matter with regard to the well-being of older adults. Those working with older adult populations should make an effort to ensure that the role environments that older adults are operating within are providing the types of resources that these individuals need to be successful and to fully engage. For example, social workers may be in positions to create/design volunteer opportunities in which older adults might participate. In doing so, attention should be paid to creating environments that are challenging, yet provide ample resources, including autonomy, task significance, social support, and continued learning and growth, as these role design features have been found to relate positively to engagement.