Abstract: (WITHDRAWN) Understanding Civic Participation and Engagement Among a Panel of Adults Ages 85+ (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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(WITHDRAWN) Understanding Civic Participation and Engagement Among a Panel of Adults Ages 85+

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Taylor Patskanick, LCSW, MSW, MPH, Technical Associate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA
Julie Miller, MSW, PhD, Research Scientist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
John Rudnik, BA, Technical Associate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
Lisa D'Ambrosio, PhD, Research Scientist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA
Joseph Coughlin, PhD, Director, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA
Background and purpose: In the United States (U.S.), there has been a surge in public attention devoted to civic participation opportunities for older adults. Additionally, existing gerontological research has conceptualized civic participation in the context of productive aging, outcomes of civic engagement in later life, and the challenges faced by older adults who choose to participate. A gap exists in exploring these issues with the “oldest old,” or those ages 85 and older. This population is essential to examine for a number of reasons: the increasing size of the oldest old demographic in the U.S., stigmatization of older adults within the political arena, and the increasing role of technology-mediated information exchange.

Methods: In this exploratory, mixed methods study, data were collected from a panel of 22 participants all ages 85 and older convened in January 2020. This workshop was part of an ongoing bimonthly panel at the MIT AgeLab that deconstructs and discusses topics related to aging. Participants completed a 75-item questionnaire (n = 24) online or via postal mail prior to the workshop measuring original items related to civic engagement and participation, political opinions and technology use as well as political efficacy as adapted from the American National Election Studies (ANES) survey. For the in-person workshop, participants were divided into five focus groups for semi-structured discussions on participant’s access to different technologies, self-described engagement with social and political issues, perceived barriers to civic participation, and use of technology to engage and influence social and political issues. Focus group analyses was guided using a qualitative description orientation and coded using an inductive, manifest content analysis approach. The community-based nature of this research means a panel participant will co-present these data at the conference via video call.

Results: Over 60% of the sample reported greater interest in politics today compared to 20 or 25 years ago. Survey data revealed more variance in current participation; however, focus group data suggested ambiguity around what constitutes a “political activity”. Perhaps unique to the 85+, participants felt there was a lack of time left to influence political and social change. The role of technology in promoting civic participation was complex. Participants with greater technological proficiency were better able to access information about issues. Increased information transmission through digital channels created the potential for our sample to be overwhelmed or left out of the discourse entirely.

Conclusion/Implications: Technology-mediated forms of engagement and participation will play a growing role as a means for citizens to take part in civic life. Traditional models of civic participation decreased in our sample, but participants are engaging in informal forms of civic participation. To ensure older adults can continue to partake fully in civic life, should they choose to do so, it is crucial to understand how older adults currently engage and participate in civic life and how this intersects with their use of new and emerging digital communication channels. The findings of this research will discuss the implications of civic participation for individuals and social work practice.