Intergenerational programming is a long-standing and promising response to improving the lives of children, youth, older adults, and communities. Intergenerational programs are defined broadly in this scoping review to include any programming involving younger generations and older adults interacting with one another.
Existing reviews on intergenerational programming lack the inclusion of a significant number of studies over a long time period. Specific gaps exist related to agency and community outcomes. Therefore, we conducted a scoping review including quantitative and qualitative studies, as well as gray literature, across the time span from 1985 to 2018.
The aim of this review is to clarify a conceptual model of intergenerational programming based on applied theories and outcomes for children, youth, young/middle adults, older adults, agencies, and communities, organized by program type.
Databases and search terms were developed in consultation with a university librarian. Two literature searches were undertaken across 15 databases by two pairs of researchers. Gray literature was included through the Generations United database.
Inclusion criteria consisted of quantitative and qualitative articles on intergenerational program design, goals, outcomes, or client perceptions through clear empirical methods. Descriptive articles, other review articles, and articles focused solely on intergenerational family relationships or informal programs were excluded.
A total of 217 articles were found to meet inclusion criteria after a first (abstract) and second (full-text) review. A two-cycle coding process resulted in six program domains: service-learning/civic-engagement, mentoring, knowledge-based, narrative and arts-based, physical health promotion, and co-housing/shared site programs. Four researchers independently analyzed the results, strengthening inter-coder reliability. Disagreements were resolved through discussion.
Outcomes were coded for children, youth, young/middle adults, and older adults based on the six program domains.
Participant outcomes across age groups were coded as: 1) attitudes toward other generations, 2) meaning and purpose/life satisfaction, 3) relationship-building/social connectedness/social support, 4) psychological/emotional well-being, 5) physical well-being, 6) education/knowledge/skills development, 7) program feedback/satisfaction, 8) engagement/participation with program, 9) prosocial behavior/civic engagement/generativity, and 10) interest in/preparation for work in gerontology.
Agency outcomes included: 1) age inclusivity in the workplace, 2) professional engagement, and 3) complementing/offsetting workloads. Community outcomes were: 1) community capacity/cost-effectiveness, 2) community resource networks, 3) age integration, and 4) community healing or bridging cultural barriers.
The most common theoretical frameworks identified were: 1) generativity within Erikson’s psychosocial development model, 2) contact theory, 3) social capital theory, 4) child development theories, 5) frameworks based on ageism and age stereotypes, 6) successful aging, and 7) multimodal literacy.
Conclusions and Implications:
To our knowledge, this scoping review provides the most comprehensive picture to date on intergenerational program outcomes, informed by theory and organized by age group and program type. In addition, this review helps address prior gaps in the intergenerational literature by documenting agency and community outcomes. The findings offer critical evidence of the importance of intergenerational programming at a time when generational divisions have been exposed through both new and “old” fractures in society.