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Active ageingVoluntary work by older people in Europe$

Andrea Principi, Per H. Jensen, and Giovanni Lamura

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9781447307204

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447307204.001.0001

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Volunteering in Older Age: A Conceptual and Analytical Framework

Volunteering in Older Age: A Conceptual and Analytical Framework

(p.21) TWO Volunteering in Older Age: A Conceptual and Analytical Framework
Active ageing

Per H. Jensen

Giovanni Lamura

Andrea Principi

Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter unfolds the overall theoretical framework of the book. Based on an overview of the existing literature, discussion focuses on how volunteering at the micro level depends on individual motivations and dispositions. At the meso level, it outlines how the structure of voluntary organizations structures the demand for volunteers and how the interactions between major institutions in society (the welfare mix) have an impact on the opportunity structure of volunteers. At the macro level, the discussion focuses on how policies may impede or encourage growth in voluntary work opportunities for seniors, while it is argued at the structural or welfare regime level how cultural values and belief systems help determine volunteering among older people.

Keywords:   motivations, older people, welfare mix, policies, welfare regimes


In this chapter we present the general conceptual and analytical framework adopted in this volume to explore the issues associated with volunteering in older age. The proposed framework, which draws on existing literature, represents an attempt to integrate the relevant dimensions identified in Chapter One and is used as a reference throughout the book. A starting point for our considerations is, as anticipated in the previous chapter, that voluntary work has lately gained in prominence and importance across the world. Since the United Nations (UN) declared 2001 the International Year of Volunteers, awareness campaigns encouraging voluntary work have primarily been addressed at the general public, while more recent attempts to encourage volunteering have targeted older adults. In Europe, older adults are increasingly considered to be a resource that can be drawn on by the voluntary sector, and the establishment of the European Year of Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity in 2012, following the Year of Volunteering in 2011, clearly shows how efforts in this respect have been growing. Moreover, organisations such as the European Older People's Platform (AGE) have been promoting volunteering among older people as a tool to enable them to continue to participate in society and to better cope with daily life (AGE, 2007).

Volunteering has thus become a mantra for active and healthy ageing, although it is not always clear what it is all about. As anticipated in the previous chapter, basically, volunteering expresses itself as a relationship between two actors: a volunteer, who, as a provider gives his/her time freely to help or support others, and a client or recipient, who accepts the services provided by the volunteer (Haski-Leventhal et al, 2009, p 149). Accordingly, voluntary work may be defined as unpaid help or (p.22) support given to another person who is not a member of one's family. This gift relation between the volunteer and recipient is freely chosen rather than being based on coercion, subordination or dominance, and both partners are expected to gain from the relationship. The recipient gets an unfulfilled need fulfilled, while the benefits from volunteering are numerous and include: strengthening of the social inclusion of the helper/provider, reduced loneliness and improved physical and psychological well-being (Wilson, 2000; Haski-Leventhal et al, 2009, p 140; Tang et al, 2010).

Volunteering in older age is affected by a variety of different and complex factors. This volume, however, is based on the assumption that five major factors condition the propensity of older people to engage in voluntary work: (1) at the micro (or individual) level motivations and predispositions among older people towards voluntary work presuppose voluntary practices; (2) at the meso level (that of voluntary organisations) the demand for older volunteers structures the opportunities for voluntary work for older people; (3) voluntary organisations interact with other welfare-producing institutions such as the labour market, care systems, family and so on, to constitute the specific welfare mix of a given country, which is an important determinant for voluntary work opportunities for older people; (4) at the macro level government policies may encourage or impede growth in voluntary work opportunity for older people; just as (5) the specific welfare regime and the set of cultural values and beliefs that characterise it may determine volunteering among older people. Table 2.1 represents an attempt to visualise these different dimensions.

This conceptual framework is used in the following discussion in which the different dimensions will be scrutinised. It is worthwhile underlining again that the focus of this volume is not so much on the needs of recipients or on the relationship between volunteers and recipients; rather, the focus at the micro level is on how the choice of becoming an older volunteer is socially structured. To this end, we examine a prototypical older volunteer in terms of social resources, socio-economic position and individual characteristics, and analyse the subjective dispositions and factors that motivate older adults to engage in voluntary work, identifying the type of voluntary work that older adults are inclined to do, and distinguishing between altruistic and self-expressive forms of voluntary work from a supply-side perspective.

At the meso level, voluntary or non-profit organisations represent the ‘place’ in which most voluntary work is carried out and ‘transformed’ from an informal to a formal activity. As already seen in Chapter One, (p.23)

Table 2.1: Structuring mechanisms behind the extent and character of voluntary work among older adults

Structural or welfare regime level, including cultural values and belief systems

Social democratic, liberal, conservative, Mediterranean, post-Communist

Macro level

Specific policies conditioning voluntary work at the meso and micro level

Meso or the welfare mix level

Interactions between voluntary organisations, labour markets, public and private care systems, and the family

Micro or individual level

Characteristics, motivations and predispositions among older people towards voluntary work

voluntary organisations are a highly heterogeneous phenomenon. Sometimes they depend on the use of formal paid employees or resemble commercial organisations selling goods and services (although without the goal of making a profit), while in other cases they are anchored in local communities or have national or even international scope, and may be organised by public sector organisations or represent the interests of particular organisations such as trade unions. In this volume, we use the terms ‘voluntary’, ‘civil society’ and ‘non-profit organisations’ and ‘associations’ synonymously to refer to an organisation engaging in non-profit activities for the benefit of the wider society. As such, voluntary organisations orchestrate and structure the demand for older volunteers by defining the extent and quality of activities that they are expected to do. It would therefore make sense to investigate whether voluntary organisations perceive older adults as relevant and attractive volunteers or, if this is not the case, identify what the organisational barriers to volunteering by older people are, and what voluntary organisations actually do to recruit and retain them. At this meso level relevant research questions would therefore be: what type of organisations are especially targeting and recruiting older volunteers? Do voluntary organisations employ special measures in order to recruit older volunteers? Are voluntary organisations adjusting work tasks to meet the preferences and dispositions of older volunteers? From the point of view of retention, relevant questions are: how do voluntary organisations support older volunteers to enable them to continue to work as volunteers? What is actually offered to older volunteers by organisations (for instance, education or financial benefits)?

Voluntary organisations compete, complement or cooperate with other social institutions such as the family, the labour market and public welfare providers. Thus, a variety of welfare providers exist (p.24) within the system of welfare production as a whole, and the division of labour among the different parts of this global system is often described as the welfare mix. The welfare mix in a given country at a given point in time is not an outcome of deliberated decision-making or strategic choices. The different welfare-producing entities, however, are interlinked, as decision-making in one sector has repercussions on the functioning of the other sectors (cf institutional choice theories), although the different welfare-producing entities cannot fully substitute for each other. Relevant questions thus become: what are the consequences of an increasingly older workforce, that is, the effects of increased participation of older people in the labour force, on their contribution to voluntary activities? Are there opportunities for collaboration between companies and voluntary organisations? Does it matter for volunteering in older age whether elder care is undertaken informally by older people? What is the relationship between the predominant type of elder care, family forms and the inclination to volunteer in older age?

At the macro level, governments can employ policies favouring volunteering among older people. As public policies frame the legal and practical conditions of voluntary organisations, they may stimulate the formation of certain organisations while stalling others, thereby improving or undermining the opportunities for older adults to participate. The legal framework of volunteering, including social policies such as tax policies, is conducive for the formation and trajectory of development of voluntary organisations and their staff (Goss, 2010). Major questions therefore become: what is the legal framework of volunteering? Does it push voluntary work in certain directions? Are these directions old or young-friendly? Does the legal framework support altruistic or self-expressive forms of voluntary work? Do special programmes exist for the inclusion of older adults in the voluntary sector? And how does the volunteering of older people figure on the political agenda? These questions are important because public policy helps to structure the orientation of voluntary organisations as well as the participatory energies of older people.

The structural level refers to the properties of identities and institutions within a social system as a whole, and it is often conceptualised as welfare regimes embedded in distinct cultural and ideological frameworks. In this volume, a distinction is made between five welfare regimes: social democratic, conservative, liberal, Mediterranean and post-Communist. This welfare regime approach presupposes that there is an organic interconnection between the structural characteristics of the institutions and identities in the system. In this volume we seek to (p.25) analyse the interconnections between, on the one hand, the structural level epitomised by welfare regimes, and on the other, identities and cultural orientations of individual actors at the micro level; how the character of voluntary organisations at the meso level are coloured by the social context; how different policy frameworks at the macro level are shaped and develop in different welfare regimes; and how central welfare-producing institutions are mixed in different ways to produce different welfare mixes in different societies. Regarding this latter point, for instance, we examine the links between volunteering and the participation of older workers in the labour force, as well as the association of volunteering in older age with family forms and the provision of formal/informal elder care in different countries.

In the following, the general theoretical framework presented above is scrutinised in more detail to provide an overview of the empirical evidence emerging from the literature. This is done in order to integrate the relevant dimensions for older people's volunteering that will be used as a guide for the organisation of the following chapters in this volume.

The micro Level: Older Volunteers

For decades, two opposing theories have dominated debates as to what drives the activities and behaviour of individuals in older age. On the one hand, disengagement theories argue that older people inevitably tend to grow more fragile, less social and less active, leading to voluntary retirement, which frees them from societal roles and allows for vegetative activities and self-reflection (Cumming and Henry, 1961; Daatland and Solem, 2011). Disengagement theories predict a decrease in the interaction between the ageing person and society; thus it can be assumed that older people are unlikely recruits for voluntary activities, according to these theories. In contrast, activity and continuity theories argue that satisfaction in old age is preconditioned by remaining active and continuing earlier lifestyles (Havighurst, 1961; Maddox, 1968; Atchley, 1989), making voluntary work an obvious choice for older people in maintaining a positive self-image, good health and longevity (Gottlieb and Gillespie, 2008). Neither disengagement theories nor activity and continuity theories have an all-encompassing explanatory power, as older adults are not a homogeneous group: some remain active, while others become more disengaged as they age. This therefore raises the following question: what makes some older adults more willing and able to volunteer than others?

(p.26) Existing literature asserts that volunteering in older age is to a large extent a matter of having strong personal resources (Wilson and Musick, 1997; Tang, 2006; Cattan et al, 2011). Factors such as good health, which makes older people capable of volunteering (Li and Ferraro, 2005), community attachment and strong family, friends and social networks in general (Warburton et al, 2001; Kochera et al, 2005; Morrow-Howell, 2007; Wilson, 2012, p 182), as well as, perhaps most importantly, a high educational attainment (Fischer and Schaffer, 1993; Erlinghagen and Hank, 2006), are all strong predictors of volunteering in old age. The individual's income and socio-economic position are also significant factors behind voluntary activism in later life, as several studies have revealed that a high economic status encourages volunteering, while low-income earners are less likely to volunteer (see Warburton et al, 2001, for an overview).

Employment status, that is, job and work position, is normally considered to be important for the availability of older people for voluntary work (Haski-Leventhal et al, 2009), because participation in the labour market has, with some exceptions, a positive effect on the decision to participate in voluntary activities. The exceptions include the so-called scarcity theory (Marks, 1977), which holds that time spent on market work or family responsibilities, including informal family caregiving, usually reduces the time available for voluntary work, provoking a crowding-out effect. This effect may be softened by part-time work, as part-time workers are more inclined than full-time workers to engage in voluntary activities (cf Wilson, 2012, p 186). A second exception is represented by the observation that retirement or labour market exclusion may increase the propensity to volunteer, as volunteering may compensate for the loss of the work role and reduce the stigma attached to being inactive, although evidence seems to indicate that retirement in itself does not cause older people to take up volunteering, as those who do it in older age were most probably volunteers before retirement too (cf Wilson, 2012, p 190).

Individual characteristics such as gender, age, personal traits and subjective disposition can help to explain a propensity towards volunteering. As empirical evidence shows, the role of gender in this respect is not unequivocal, leading some authors to be cautious about generalising gender effects on volunteering (Cutler and Hendriks, 2000). However, it is quite clear that the frequency of volunteering decreases with age (Ehlers et al, 2011), although the availability of time after retirement may explain why older people are engaged in voluntary work for more hours than younger people (Morrow-Howell, 2007). Self-confidence, self-assurance, religious beliefs, church (p.27) membership as well as individual values, for instance, the notion that one should help those in need, may also stimulate civic engagement and the willingness of older people to volunteer (Wymer, 1999).

Volunteering, however, may also be driven by motivations such as the desire to have more social contacts, to be active, to cultivate personal interests and goals, or for personal growth (Fischer and Schaffer, 1993; Steinberg and Cain, 2004). Following this line of argument, economists have claimed that volunteering is based on utility-based decision-making, that is, that individual choices to minimise expected costs and maximise benefits may have an impact on the decision to enter the voluntary sector (Butrica et al, 2009). Such benefits also depend on the degree of fulfilment of older volunteers' main motivational drivers. The latter are often associated with a need for emotional gratification (to feel good, to maintain a sense of self or to deepen intimacy in social contacts) rather than increasing one's knowledge, as younger people more frequently aim to (Fung et al, 2001). Thus, older people's decisions to volunteer may be more commonly linked either directly or indirectly to benefits such as improved social inclusion, reduced loneliness and increased physical and psychological well-being (Wilson, 2000; Haski-Leventhal et al, 2009, p 140; Tang et al, 2010).

These observations suggest that, in the end, despite its many different forms, voluntary engagement can be classified as philanthropic or self-centred/self-expressive (Barker 1993, p 28; Sivesind et al, 2002). As mentioned above, even if the motivations for volunteering represent a set of multidimensional and complex factors (Clary et al, 1998), older volunteers are most often found to be motivated by altruistic and philanthropic ideals such as the desire to help others, to serve the needs of society, or by feeling obligations for future generations (Putnam, 2000; Morrow-Howell, 2007). Although older people might prefer to carry out philanthropic activities, their availability to the voluntary sector might, however, depend to a high degree on its composition, and on how the demand for voluntary work is structured. Thus, if older people take up volunteering for altruistic reasons, the availability and extent of involvement of older volunteers may depend on whether the societal demand for voluntary work actually mirrors older people's dispositions towards the voluntary sector. Non-participation may thus not be a totally free choice, unless it is expected from older people that they participate in voluntary work independently of individual preferences.

(p.28) The meso Level: Voluntary Organisations

How attractive older adults are to voluntary organisations may depend on what the older adults have to offer. In this regard, expectations may be rather low, as images of old age are often associated with cognitive and physical decline. Perceptions of older adults, however, are often biased and based on prejudices, and social-gerontological studies have found that both younger and older people have different strengths and weaknesses. Among the strengths of older people are their life experience, stability, maturity, independence and professionalism, and that they radiate a sense of calmness, perspective and social understanding. Conversely, they are frequently described as being slower at learning new things, less flexible and physically weaker than younger people, and also more anxious when it comes to the development of new skills and competencies (Skirbekk, 2003; Henkens, 2005; Casey, 2007; Griffiths, 2007; Friis et al, 2008). As such, older people should not, a priori, be considered ‘better or worse’ volunteers compared to younger segments of the population. However, they are likely to be more effective in voluntary activities requiring a direct and strong personal relationship with clients (Endres and Holmes, 2006), thus benefiting voluntary organisations thanks to their social skills, commitment and experience (Steinberg and Cain, 2004; Warburton and Cordingley; 2004; Warburton and McDonald, 2009).

The crucial question therefore becomes whether voluntary organisations recognise and appreciate the specific strengths of older volunteers. As will be clear from the empirical evidence reported in Part III of this book, which analyses in more depth 73 case studies from eight European countries for which only preliminary findings could be previously disseminated (Principi et al, 2012b), voluntary organisations perceive the performance of older people as both positive and negative, in similar terms to what happens in the labour market in employers' assessment of older workers. Perceived advantages of older volunteers are: considerable knowledge, skills and experience; high levels of social skills and reliability; and lower turnover and recruitment costs, as they (supposedly) require less extensive training. Disadvantages of engaging older volunteers are reported to be: difficulties in terminating the relationship when capacities decline; lower ability to work well under pressure and generally lower productivity; and lower ability to cope with some physical tasks and greater health problems. These perceived advantages and disadvantages can certainly not be used to carry out assessments (p.29) aimed at proving that the benefits of recruiting older seniors outweigh the shortcomings, or vice versa, but they do say something about the potential of older volunteers in terms of qualities that can be actively and meaningfully used in/by voluntary organisations.

Given the perceived qualities of older volunteers, it is hardly surprising that existing studies show that organisations involving the largest number of older volunteers are religious in nature (Burr Bradley, 1999; Warburton et al, 2001; Gottlieb, 2002; Gonyea and Googins, 2006), demand being especially high in religious organisations operating in the social and healthcare sectors (Thompson and Wilson, 2001; Gottlieb, 2002; Achenbaum, 2006) where older volunteers carry out activities targeted towards individuals in need. For example, this can involve transporting people, making friendly visits and carrying out other care activities associated with ageing and death in contexts such as hospices, hospitals, nursing homes and other senior settings and community welfare organisations (Kovacs and Black, 1999; Omoto et al, 2000; Warburton et al, 2001; Narushima, 2005; Morrow-Howell, 2006).

The educational area is another volunteering sector with a high demand for older volunteers (Narushima, 2005; Achenbaum, 2006). Here older volunteers are often enrolled in activities and roles such as mentoring, tutoring, teaching, coaching and counselling (Baldock, 1999; Warburton et al, 2001; Narushima, 2005; Morrow-Howell, 2006), but are also appreciated in unskilled activities such as preparing and serving food, working in charity shops and carrying out maintenance (Warburton et al, 2001; Warburton and Cordingley, 2004). There is also a demand for older volunteers in the cultural and recreational sector in activities such as being museum guides, amateur players in nursing homes and storytellers (Baldock, 1999; Warburton et al, 2001; Gottlieb, 2002; Narushima, 2005). It is also not uncommon to see a demand for them in high-ranking positions, such as the recruitment of new volunteers and public relations activities (Narushima, 2005), for which organisations benefit from the skills and knowledge that volunteers have obtained during their working life (Omoto et al, 2000; Warburton et al, 2001).

Once a voluntary organisation decides to make use of older volunteers, it is important that it develops good practice to support the recruitment, employability and retention of older volunteers throughout the whole volunteer cycle, in the form of appropriate volunteering programmes and (professional) management of volunteers (Haski-Leventhal et al, 2009, p 142). Often, however, voluntary organisations are not suited to the challenge of recruiting (p.30) and maintaining older volunteers, a situation which, to a large extent, can be ascribed to organisational matters. Large organisations usually have adequate organisational resources and will tend to be well defined in their use of volunteers, whereas smaller organisations, which dominate the voluntary landscape, can be characterised by their ‘from hand to mouth’ practices and are typically less well defined in their use of volunteers. As in the case of for-profit companies (Naegele and Walker, 2006), in an ideal scenario, organisational policies supporting the growth and quality of an older volunteer workforce should therefore systematically address issues such as recruitment, retention and eventual termination of the relationship.

In terms of recruitment, the existing literature indicates that voluntary organisations need to create a meaningful image of volunteering and employ marketing strategies such as mail and newspaper advertisements as well as word-of-mouth communication to inform potential volunteers that they are needed (Kovacs and Black, 1999; Thompson and Wilson, 2001; Gottlieb, 2002; Smith, 2004; McBride, 2006; O'Neill, 2006), not least because many older people do not volunteer due to the fact that no one has asked them to do so (Rozario, 2006). In this respect voluntary organisations should have an eye for potential new segments in the older population, as they tend to draw their membership primarily from those who are well educated (Field, 2012, p 17). Furthermore, the literature emphasises that it is important that organisations are physically and geographically accessible. This could be achieved by opening new branches or allowing seniors to volunteer from their own homes, such as, for instance, giving telephone assistance to other older people (O'Neill, 2006). It is equally important that voluntary organisations help individuals to adjust to the tasks they perform by providing training and education to new recruits (Hendricks and Cutler, 2004; Steinberg and Cain, 2004; Warburton et al, 2007). For example, it is essential that hospice volunteers are instructed in patients' medical conditions and treatment (Mellow, 2007) to help them feel that they are capable and to master the assigned tasks. Moreover, voluntary organisations must be aware of what attracts older volunteers, and design work tasks so that they suit them, bearing in mind that older volunteers, as already mentioned, are especially interested in activities that allow them to build a direct and strong relationship with clients.

The literature on retention programmes is sparse; however, what there is shows that some organisationally relevant support measures may be crucial in enabling older volunteers to continue to perform. For example, the commitment of older volunteers increases when (p.31) they receive adequate training and can choose the activities to be carried out (Morrow-Howell et al, 2009; Tang et al, 2009, 2010). Positive effects are also achieved when their role is unambiguously described, while a lack of a clear role specification can be stressful (Wilson, 2012, p 195). For the same reason, older volunteers should be less exposed to demanding clients (Gottlieb, 2002). At the same time, older volunteers are in need of autonomy and work flexibility. If it is not possible to alter work schedules, voluntary work may be perceived as a straitjacket, limiting opportunities for competing demands such as visiting sick grandchildren and other informal activities.

It is therefore hardly surprising that good management practices in the form of adequate supervision, recognition, review and appraisal have an evident impact on the commitment and retention of older volunteers (Principi et al, 2012b). As part of good management practices, it is particularly important to establish a clear division of labour between volunteers and paid employees, as the two groups may have opposite interests leading to conflicts, and volunteers quitting the organisation (Wilson, 2012). Incentives such as social events and minor economic remuneration (for example, reimbursement of transportation costs for volunteers using their own vehicle) may help to retain older volunteers (O'Neill, 2006). Most probably, however, continued training and retraining is the single most import retention instrument (Freedman, 2002; Wilson and Simson, 2003). Training of volunteers not only develops and improves organisational efficiency; learning has an impact on life satisfaction and well-being (Field, 2012), which in turn encourages older volunteers to continue volunteering.

Programmes focusing on older volunteers, however, should not be carried to extremes. Evidence from the for-profit sector shows that in some cases, focusing too much on older employees may be counter-productive (Friis et al, 2008) as younger employees may find it unfair if management discriminates in favour of older colleagues. In other cases, older employees might perceive that they are treated differently, pigeonholed or even stigmatised. In both situations, conflicts between different age groups within the organisation might be the unintended consequence. In addition, studies have shown that older volunteers can be quite costly for organisations because of high turnover rates, a decrease in productivity due to deterioration in health and sudden drop-out from voluntary activity. These problems call for the organisation to reflect on how to conclude the relationship with older volunteers at a certain point. Literature is scarce, and Part III of this book tries to shed more light on this delicate subject in order to better (p.32) understand how a holistic view can be adopted in the ‘recruitment–engagement cycle’ (Principi et al, 2012b, p 696).

The Welfare Mix

As they are an integrated part of and directly linked to civil society, voluntary organisations assume certain roles and functions that contribute to the reproduction of society as a whole. For example, they may take the role of service provider or they may function to deal with social problems. Voluntary organisations, however, cannot be fully understood in isolation from the political, social and institutional environments in which they operate, as welfare-producing institutions such as the welfare state, the market and the family influence the scale and character of the voluntary sector. This has been conceptualised as the welfare mix (Evers and Wintersberger, 1990; Evers, 1995) or the welfare triangle (Pestoff, 1992, 1998), indicating that some sort of interaction and division of labour exists between the market, the state, the family and voluntary associations.

This division of tasks between major welfare institutions in society is not a natural given, nor is it once and for all. The welfare mix is continuously changing as welfare institutions such as the roles of the family, markets, state and third sector are in a continuous process of change. To understand what shapes the welfare mix, existing literature draws heavily on functional arguments and institutional choice theories, arguing that the choice between different institutional providers of welfare is the outcome of complex interrelationships between institutional actors (Badelt, 1990). The institutional choice theory ties in with interdependence theory, according to which the voluntary sector is a by-product of the state (Salamon and Anheier, 1998, p 225), predicting that welfare state growth will substitute or crowd out civil society and voluntary organised services (Rostow, 1960; Wolfe, 1989; Fukuyama, 1995; Henriksen et al, 2012). More recently, however, the crowding-out hypothesis has been questioned. In part, because it may be very difficult to identify clear demarcation lines between one institution and another, and also because it has been convincingly argued that different institutional actors actually cooperate and complement each other, and that this type of cooperation has been made topical by the challenges of ‘market failure/government failure’ (Pestoff, 2009).

Existing literature seems to support the idea, at least with regard to older volunteers, that interactions between institutional actors are highly complex, and that the work–volunteering nexus is, to a large (p.33) extent, still unclear. Some studies have found that there is a negative association between work for the labour market and volunteering by older people, whereas other studies show that paid work and high employment rates are compatible with or have a positive impact on volunteering among older adults, especially among part-time workers (Erlinghagen and Hank, 2006; Gonyea and Googins, 2006; Hank and Stuck, 2008; Haski-Leventhal et al, 2009; Erlinghagen, 2010; Hank and Erlinghagen, 2010; Warburton and Jeppsson-Grassman, 2011). As it will become clearer from the evidence provided in the following chapters, participation in the labour market might even function as a trampoline for volunteering, since labour market participants have on average more social and economic resources than retirees. This finding suggests that the perception of volunteering as part of an ideal retirement lifestyle may be quite wrong (Smith, 2004; Gonyea and Googins, 2006; O'Neill, 2006).

In the same way, contradictory evidence exists when it comes to the relationship between the size and scope of the voluntary sector and informal caregiving of older family members, primarily carried out by women (Lamura et al, 2008). Some studies show that informal caregiving tends to discourage voluntary work, while other studies have found that older caregivers are more often volunteers than non-caregivers (for an overview, see Burr et al, 2005). That no conclusive evidence can be found is probably due to the complexity of the issue. Eldercare may take place in the family or be provided by public institutions as a right of the citizen. It seems as though the probability of volunteering is positively associated with the degree of eldercare formalisation, that is, that voluntary work among older adults is encouraged if the welfare state takes a major responsibility for eldercare provision (Warburton and Jeppsson-Grassman, 2011). It is thus necessary to reflect on whether older adults are involved in informal (not regulated), semi-formal (cash-for-care) or formal (home help/institutional care) forms of care (Geissler and Pfau-Effinger, 2005) as the different forms of care are associated differently with volunteering in older age (Burr et al, 2005).

Voluntary work and informal care responsibilities may likewise be associated with different family forms (Pfau-Effinger et al, 2009). Interactions between the voluntary sector and the family may thus differ depending on whether the predominant family form is: (1) the male breadwinner/female housewife (full-time carer) model; (2) the male breadwinner/women working part time/female part-time carer model; or (3) the dual breadwinner/external carer model. For instance, (p.34) it seems that part-time workers are more involved in voluntary work than full-time workers.

The macro Level: Policies Supporting Volunteering

Even if the US can count on deeper roots in terms of the history of programmes and policies supporting volunteering in older age (Principi et al, 2012a), over the last decades European policy makers have increasingly shown an interest in voluntary work, and called for it to become a more vibrant part of civil society. Volunteering has been put high on the political agenda, and been promoted by international organisations (for example, the UN and the EU), national governments and local municipalities. In some countries, voluntary work has even become a cornerstone in the building of a new society, as, for instance, when in 2011 Prime Minister David Cameron declared voluntary work as a major building block in his vision for the ‘Big Society’. It has been argued that this growing interest in voluntary work is a response to new societal needs, generated by the combined effect of ‘market failure’ which gave rise to the welfare state in industrial societies, and ‘government failure’ in which the welfare state has gone too far and become a co-producer of social problems (Weisbrod, 1977; Murray, 1984; Gilbert, 2002; Pestoff, 2009). The ‘market failure/ government failure’ hypothesis points towards the voluntary sector as a key instrument in satisfying unsatisfied demands for public goods (Salamon and Anheier, 1998, p 221). In effect, new governance structures have emerged that assign the role of partners to voluntary organisations working in cooperation with governments and forprofit private organisations in the provision of welfare.

Policies shape identities, preferences, the nature of social participation and organisational capacities (Skocpol, 1985; Skocpol and Amenta, 1986; Pierson, 2000). Thus, in as much as governments and policy makers wish to enhance volunteering in older age, policies should be designed so that they stimulate voluntary activities in this segment of the population. Two factors are important if governments want to shape voluntary organisations in an elder-friendly direction: the legal framework and financial incentives (or funding).

First, the legal framework in the form of laws of association, administration and regulations defines the criteria for the official recognition of voluntary organisations and volunteers. It lays down the fundamental set of rights and obligations under which voluntary organisations can operate, as well as the basic principles and requirements for partnerships between the state and the third/ (p.35) non-profit sector. The legal framework can structure, frame and condition the internal life and accounting policies of voluntary organisations, and is very much present if public resources or subsidies are involved. Basically, the legal framework represents the essential values of the state and the status in society ascribed to a voluntary organisation, which may strengthen or weaken the societal role and prestige of such organisations and influence the normative ideals and orientation of citizens towards voluntary work. The legal framework therefore helps to favour certain types of organisational properties while constraining others (Goss, 2010). For instance, high levels of formal requirements for third sector organisations support bureaucratisation and paid work, while low levels of formal requirements allow for more anarchical and looser organisational structures, including the types of volunteering most favourable to older volunteers.

Second, social policies may stimulate the supply and demand for voluntary work by offering financial resources to promote it. A distinction is often made between distributive, regulative and redistributive policies (Lowi, 1964). A common feature of these policies is that they contain incentives that affect the propensity and willingness of rational actors to volunteer. In recent years, however, new forms of steering have emerged, for example, culture steering/governance (Bang, 2004). This is an interactive practice where governments and central political actors signal the importance of voluntary work and appeal to citizens to volunteer. Culture steering is about top-down communication of an all-inclusive vision (for instance, the visions of active ageing or the ‘Big Society’) often advanced in the form of codes of good conduct, benchmarking and best practices, thus allowing self-reflexive individuals or groups to connect and develop new local practices that fit into a larger societal project. As such, culture steering indicates that discourses and ideas rather than incentives help to mobilise and direct reflexive and responsible citizens towards the voluntary sector.

Social policies may enhance volunteering at both the individual and organisational level as they structure participatory opportunities (Haski-Leventhal et al, 2009; Goss, 2010). At the organisational level, social policies may privilege certain types of organisations over others. As argued by Goss (2010, p 122), income tax deductions for donations to voluntary organisations provide systematic incentives to create charity organisations rather than advocacy organisations, and as older volunteers prefer philanthropic organisations, policies helping to create or reinforce these organisations will most probably increase older people's availability for voluntary work. At the individual level, (p.36) tax deductions for people who volunteer as well as publicly organised training and learning opportunities are expected to have an impact on the inclination of older adults to volunteer (Thompson and Wilson, 2001; Henkin and Zapf, 2006; O'Neill, 2006).

Besides creating social policy incentives for voluntary work, public policy may also create volunteer centres both locally and nationally by encouraging collaboration and networking between organisations. Such centres can improve chances for older people to learn about volunteer opportunities (Haski-Leventhal et al, 2009, p 145) and the prospects for them to become involved in voluntary work (Henkin and Zapf, 2006).

Welfare Regime

The structural or welfare regimes level encompasses at least two dimensions. First, institutions and the welfare mix represent a functional division of responsibility for the production of welfare, and the division of labour between the state, market, family and voluntary sector has been measured as the degree of de-commodification. Second, culture, values, belief systems and ideology (social democratic, liberal, conservative, and so on) are the basic organising principles behind choices made by individuals and institutions (Esping-Andersen, 1990). Culture, values and belief systems, which can be fully understood only from a historical perspective, mark societal ideas and notions about the ‘right’ relation between the different welfare-producing institutions, that is, the ‘just’ order between the market, state, family and voluntary organisations, just as culture, values and belief systems define expectations and roles (for example, the role of older people) ascribed to social actors. Thereby, welfare regimes help to construct and frame identities and guide individual behaviour (Pierson, 1993), including older people's attitudes and decisions towards the voluntary sector.

Most probably, different welfare regimes have created different configurations in their third sectors, but very few studies have actually documented the relationship between welfare regimes and the scope and character of voluntary work. One exception is the study carried out by Salamon and Anheier (1998) that argues that the voluntary sector is embedded in broader social, political and economic relationships. Salamon and Anheier make use of the regime theory developed by Esping-Andersen, although with some minor modifications such as the reference to four (instead of three) regime types: the liberal, the social democratic, the corporatist and the statist, (p.37) to find out how volunteer rates are affected by differences in regime as measured by indicators such as government social welfare spending and the non-profit scale.

The study of Salamon and Anheier is a commendable initiative as this type of cross-national study is rare, but it is far from being fully convincing, as the same authors recognise (Salamon and Anheier, 1998, p 245). It is difficult to understand, for instance, why in this study the non-profit scale has been based only on paid employment in this sector rather than on volunteer work, and why Italy (together with Sweden) is characterised as a social democratic non-profit regime.

In light of the above, it is not surprising that studies analysing older people's volunteering from a welfare regime perspective are even rarer. Recently, however, Warburton and Jeppsson-Grassman (2011) have analysed the involvement of older people in voluntary associations using a six-regime model. They distinguished between organisational membership in terms of active and inactive membership and the type of organisations in which older people volunteer, such as charitable, religious, sports and other types of organisations, and found that differences between countries can be explained by variations in the overall welfare context.

Final Remarks

The theoretical and conceptual framework developed in this chapter will be used as a frame of reference in the country studies presented in Part II as well as the organisational studies presented in Part III. This main framework, which is based on the available literature on volunteering in older age, also guides the cross-national analysis in the conclusion of this volume.

A main consideration behind our decision to adopt such a comprehensive approach was that the most recent contributions on this issue, from an active ageing perspective, suggest that there is still a large gap in our understanding of the complex mechanisms underlying volunteering in older age. Volunteering in older age is explained by the interplay of different dimensions that we considered as the micro, meso, macro, welfare mix and welfare regime, while these dimensions have hardly ever been considered all together in a single study so far.

Another major goal of this book is to attempt to at least partially fill the endemic gap in terms of empirical studies on the organisational (meso) level of volunteering in later life. This has been pursued through a major effort of comparing the situation of over 73 voluntary organisations operating in eight selected European countries and (p.38) almost as many different welfare regimes. Part III of this book allows us to verify whether the results emerging from this in-depth analysis have met the initial goal of the study in providing clear evidence of how and to what extent voluntary organisations across Europe are currently able to knowingly deal with older volunteers.

Moreover, the comparative nature of our analysis will hopefully also help us understand why the empirical evidence reported in the existing literature is sometimes contradictory. These contrasting findings could depend on the particular sample or the different methodology employed, suggesting that more in-depth analyses should be employed in light of the particular context under investigation to better understand and thus explain why differing results emerge from different studies on apparently the same topic. To this purpose, this volume applies the same conceptual framework to the analysis of the national contexts of the eight different European countries involved in the study.


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