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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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Older Volunteers in Germany: Opportunities and Restrictions in the Welfare Mix

Older Volunteers in Germany: Opportunities and Restrictions in the Welfare Mix

(p.93) FIVE Older Volunteers in Germany: Opportunities and Restrictions in the Welfare Mix
Active ageing

Paula Aleksandrowicz

Doris Bockermann

Frerich Frerichs

Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

The Third Sector in Germany plays an important role in the provision of welfare besides the state and the market. Voluntary work is encouraged and strengthened by the welfare state, especially in the social services sector, where the provision of services follows the subsidiarity principle. A change of values associated with voluntary work from altruistic and duty motives to motives of self-fulfilment and fun can be observed. Employment and care responsibilities are no hindrance to taking up voluntary work. The structure of voluntary work in Germany follows the male breadwinner model and leads to gender inequalities in civic engagement. While recent decades have witnessed a rise in the number of volunteers, the civic engagement of older persons needs to be activated further in line with the intergenerational contract. Within older cohorts, special focus should be put on the activation of females, persons with lower education and lower material resources.

Keywords:   Third Sector, voluntary work, subsidiarity principle, civic engagement, intergenerational contract


Voluntary work in Germany is firmly rooted in a strong civil society, and particularly involved in the provision of social services through churches and large welfare organisations. However, volunteering in Germany is not only limited to the social sector –which includes elder care activities and care for people with disabilities (Gensicke, 2005a) –but is also strong in such fields as sport, culture and politics. Although no data is available on voluntary organisations as such and on the sector's contribution to GDP (gross domestic product), the number of volunteers (which is known) has increased substantially in recent decades, reaching nowadays about one third of the German population.

For a long time, voluntary work in Germany was related to the tradition of the male breadwinner model of the family and thus, the structures of volunteering were strongly gendered: men were usually active in voluntary work as well as having fulltime employment, often in leadership roles that could also contribute to improving their professional reputation, whereas women were much more often not employed housewives performing voluntary activities in charity work and social services (Pfau-Effinger and Magdalenic, 2009). Since the 1990s, however, a shift has taken place towards a male breadwinner/ female part-time career model, in which the participation of women in gainful employment has become more important (Pfau-Effinger and Magalenic, 2009). Overall, the engagement level of men as volunteers is still slightly higher than that of women.

As mentioned before, civil society and volunteering play a big role in the provision of welfare beside the state and the market. Without the participation of volunteers, welfare institutions and organisations (p.94) would be overburdened, so volunteers involvement is usually appreciated and taken into account (Thiel, 2006). This also reflects the fact that Germany is a relatively strong welfare state of a ‘conservative’ type (Esping-Andersen, 1990), where a large share of informal work can be assumed. Thus, the welfare mix in Germany is represented by state provision and services and profit-oriented enterprises, on the one hand, and by voluntary engagement in intermediate actors such as non-profit and self-help organisations, informal social initiatives, the family, kinship and neighbourhood, on the other (Thiel, 2006).

Faced with financial constraints and thus with high demands for ‘social capital’, the political debate has reacted by postulating civic commitment as an inevitable requirement for civil society's solidarity (Enquete Commission, 2002). In 1999, the Enquete Commission on ‘The future of civic commitment’ was assigned the task of compiling data and conveying recommendations for political strategies and actions to develop volunteering in Germany.

According to this approach, the policy calls for more civic commitment of older people in the form of an individual contribution to fulfil the intergenerational contract. It is argued that older people should show more social responsibility in coping with the societal consequences of demographic development (Bäcker et al, 2008). The theses on the civic participation and democratic involvement of older people are mirrored by a scholarly discussion about a re-bondage of the ‘released’ older generation (Backes and Höltge, 2008). Research has confirmed this change of values and motivations for voluntary work, from altruistic motives to motives of self-fulfilment, and an increased interest in co-decision-making (Künemund, 2007).

In the following, the development of volunteering in Germany in general, as well as the role of volunteering in older age, is analysed. This is embedded in a description of the specific tradition of voluntary action in Germany and its legal framework. However, the main purpose of this chapter is to investigate the main opportunities and restrictions for older people to participate in volunteering –highlighting features such as education, employment and care obligations. Derived from this, future perspectives to foster the civic engagement of older volunteers, both on the organisational and the institutional level, are shown.

The German Tradition of Voluntary Action

Scholarly literature points out the importance of local relations for the evolution of volunteering in Germany. This was emphasised through (p.95) the concept of the ‘Elberfeld system’ (1853), which was developed to relieve poor citizens. With this system, social volunteering was formally introduced and implemented in municipal social policy (Sachße, 2000). Particularly in urban communities, organised social life rose up in the form of cooperatives and associations (Schroeter, 2006). On the one hand, self-help was seen as a basic necessity for the new working class to improve their living conditions in the second half of the 19th century. On the other hand, the reformer Wilhelm Emmanuel Ketteler pointed out the complementary role of governmental protection and assistance as a pre-condition for successful selfhelp, especially for the working class (Sachße, 2003), as problems regarding the distinction and coordination between private and public welfare work arose with the expansion of the local public welfare system at the end of the 19th century (Sachße, 2000).

Thanks to Ketteler's concept, the regulatory idea of subsidiarity took shape and became one of the guiding principles of German welfare state arrangements. Subsidiarity, in the interpretation of Catholic social studies, serves a regulatory function with regard to the relation between individuals and communities in terms of individual responsibility and social assistance (Sachße, 2003). The coordination and linking of governmental and non-governmental welfare work was organised in Germany according to this principle.

From the end of the 19th century to the 1920s, non-governmental/ non-profit organisations were established to operate countrywide, with highly institutionalised structures aiming at rationalisation and coordination. Due to the circumstances and needs emerging after the First World War, welfare organisations gained in importance through a nationwide alliance of umbrella and specialist associations, while the relevance of private civic commitment declined. With this development, volunteering was no longer locally motivated but guided by central values (Sachße, 2000). In other areas, for example, sports or culture, volunteering gradually gained in importance.

Today, the third sector is made up of a broad range of organisations located between the state with its services (first sector), the market with its profit-oriented companies (second sector) and the family system (informal sector). It consists of welfare organisations/charities, non-profit institutions in culture and recreation, environmental organisations, consumer and advocacy groups, civic associations, foundations and other non-governmental organisations (Birkhölzer et al, 2005).Voluntary work in the third sector is generally unpaid and informal, despite regulations for tax relief and expenses allowances. Nevertheless, voluntary work may be seen as indirectly subsidised, as (p.96) large welfare organisations –where still the majority of volunteers are active and which assumes tasks in the public interest –are contracted and financed by the state. Accordingly, voluntary work in this sphere can be seen as traditionally encouraged and strengthened by the German welfare state (Pfau-Effinger and Magdalenic, 2009, p 92). In this respect, volunteers are ‘drawn into’ the social services sector, although no specific age preference is made here.

Since the 1990s a significant change in volunteering could be observed, in the form of an increase in the number of individually self-determined and autonomously acting volunteers (Kolland and Oberbauer, 2006). The motives for volunteering gradually changed from duty-guided ‘old’ activities for others (that is, driven by ‘altruistic’ motives) to a ‘new’ form of activities for oneself and for others (that is, fun-related or for self-fulfilling motives). Functional motives are also increasing, such as gaining in reputation or investing in one's future (Künemund, 2006a).

The Legal Framework

In general, there are no specific laws that regulate volunteering in Germany as such or for particular groups such as older people, and regulations for volunteering are usually embedded in tax, insurance or public law.

Legally recognised forms of non-profit organisations are associations, incorporated societies and foundations. The association is the most common legal form of voluntary activity in Germany (43 per cent) (Igl et al, 2002). From a legal point of view, changes in definitions and forms of voluntary activity in the 1990s became a problem. Legal regulations in tax laws referred to the old-termed ‘honorary activity’, which was linked to holding an office. Various new terms of volunteering applied to people, while the activity itself and their formal frame were not specified, and civic commitment, with its special legal problems, played no guiding role when these legal regulations were formulated (Igl et al, 2002). To strengthen the voluntary action of citizens, several tax laws were reformed and merged into an overarching law to promote civic engagement in 2007. Benefits were upgraded in the welfare sector considering tax breaks, tax benefits for donations and tax-exempted reimbursements for volunteers.

Various groups of volunteers (for example, those volunteering for certain institutions governed by public law or for the public good) are statutorily insured during their voluntary activities by statutory (p.97) accident insurance (Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung). Organisations employing volunteers can contract public and association liability insurance, financial loss insurance or organiser liability insurance, as private liability insurance does not cover all kinds of voluntary activities (for example, those carried out for municipalities or in the form of a voluntary leading position within an organisation).

The Dimension of Volunteer Work

On the whole, participation in voluntary activities, when the definition is not confined to holding a formal position, is quite frequent and involves one third of the German population, old and young alike. The development of a civil society in Germany benefited from a change in social norms and values that occurred between 1965 and 1975. In addition, an expansion in education together with a rising population has contributed to increasing involvement rates in volunteering over the last decades (European Foundation, 2011, p 15). Longitudinal data –which have only been available since 1999 through the Volunteer Survey –show that the proportion of volunteers slightly increased from 34 to 36 per cent between 1999 and 2009. Older people in Germany are increasingly participating in volunteering. Comparing 1999 and 2009 in the Volunteer Survey, the proportion of volunteers aged 65 and over grew from 23 to 28 per cent. However, older people are still participating below average compared with the whole population, with a marked decline after retirement.

Voluntary Organisations

So far, no general overview on voluntary organisations can be found in Germany, partly because the voluntary sector is rather diverse and voluntary activities take place in rather different organisational forms. Thus, the following overview is restricted only to the volunteers participating in civic activities, as no data on number, dimensions, geographical location of voluntary organisations and people employed in them is available.

Volunteers by sector, gender and age

There is a rather divergent view on the scope of volunteering among older people in Germany, depending on the sources used. For example, the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) has a narrow understanding of ‘civic engagement’, as does the Ageing Survey, which limits the (p.98) concept of volunteering to just holding an honorary position in an organisation (Rohleder and Bröscher, 2002). Volunteer Survey, one of the main sources, employs a broader concept, which also includes voluntary activities not connected to holding an honorary position, as does the Time Budget Survey and Prognos' Commitment atlas. If we compare figures from surveys with a narrow understanding of civic engagement with those from surveys with a broader concept (which are, in most cases, twice as high), it becomes clear that a large part of this difference is due to the underlying definition.

According to the Volunteer Survey, 36 per cent of the German population aged 16 and over was volunteering in 2004. Table 5.1 shows the difficulty of comparing data based on different concepts of ‘voluntary work’ and applying different methods of measurement. Moreover, no detailed aggregated data for all age groups is available in the literature.

According to the 2004 Volunteer Survey, the most popular areas of voluntary work provided by the German population of all ages were those described in Table Table 5.2.

As to gender, participation structures show that women are more often involved in voluntary social work, while men are rather occupied

Table 5.1: Share of population participating in volunteering (%)

Age ranges

Volunteer Survey (2004)

Ageing Survey (2002)

SOEP, 2005

SHARE, 2006-07

Commitmentatlas, 2008











(East/West Germany)

















Total (14+/16+)



Sources: Gensicke (2005b); Künemund (2006c); Erlinghagen and Hank (2009); Prognos and AMB Generali (2009)

(p.99) with more prestigious political honorary work or in areas requiring craftsmanship and expert knowledge (Backes, 2006).

Men have slightly higher participation rates in volunteering than women, according to the Volunteer Survey (Gensicke, 2005b). This is particularly true for higher age groups (men: 36 per cent in the age group 14-30, 33 per cent among the over-65s; women: 33 and 21 per cent, respectively). The gender difference in older age is explained by the fact that the generation of women aged 65 years and older has a weak tradition of voluntary involvement in general (Picot and Gensicke, 2005, p 285). This is also consistent with latest international evidence that employment in the labour market fosters volunteering, whereas older women were more often not employed housewives.

For younger women, working full time and caring for children are inhibitors to voluntary work (Picot and Gensicke, 2005). Nevertheless, participation rates in civic engagement are higher among parents with children aged four years or older than among Germans of the same age without children. The opposite is true for parents with children below the age of four, for which there is an insufficient number of childcare facilities. Analyses show that, when childcare facilities for the latter group are available, the rate of volunteering among mothers rises from 27 to 44 per cent, while among fathers no effect is observed (Geiss and Picot, 2009).

Civic engagement rates among women with children are lower than among men in the same situation (Picot and Gensicke, 2005). This implies that the full-time employment of fathers and their civic engagement is only made possible by the mother working part time, and vice versa (Klenner et al, 2001). However, between 1999 and 2004, a significant change in family role models must have taken place, as the percentage of volunteering of women with children below the age of four increased, while that of men in the same situation decreased (Picot and Gensicke, 2005). Therefore, legislative activities of the state which shift the share of responsibilities for family work between the sexes, such as the so-called ‘family time for fathers’, may

Table 5.2: Top three areas of voluntary activity (by number of volunteers) provided by the German population, 2004


% of total

Sports and exercise


School and kindergarten


Church and religion


Source: Authors' calculation based on Gensicke (2005a)

(p.100) also contribute to a levelling off of volunteering rates for men and women. This is all the more important, as the formerly dominating family model of the husband as the main breadwinner is losing its importance.

On average, people in Germany spend 2.8 hours per week on volunteering and informal help (2001/02 Time Budget Survey). Among people with a higher education, the share of volunteers is higher by 13 percentage points above the average, confirming the positive role played by this factor in increasing participation in voluntary activities (Schmidt and Schnurr, 2009). People with a low or medium school qualification prefer ‘social activities’ as their main sector of voluntary engagement, while people with a high school leaving qualification are more often found in the cultural sectors in which they can pursue their own intellectual interests.

The prototypical volunteer in Germany is active in the ‘sports and exercise’ sector, is between 35-49 years old, male, employed, has a high school qualification and school-age children.

Participation of Older Volunteers

The main areas of involvement of people aged 46-65 and over 65, as recorded in the Volunteer Survey, do not deviate much from those of the whole population. Most of these people are active in ‘sports and exercise’, ‘leisure and sociable activities’, ‘social affairs’, ‘culture and music’ and ‘Church and religion’, which are among the top six categories (out of 14) for the whole population. Only the category ‘school and kindergarten’ (7 per cent of the whole population) loses in importance (between 1.5-5 per cent of older people are active in this area) (Gensicke, 2005b). Table 5.3 shows the top three categories of the volunteering activities of older people.

People aged 50-69 years made up 39 percent of all Germans who were volunteering in 2004. A marked decline in participation rates is visible among people of retirement age (Gensicke, 2005b; Backes, 2006), especially in the case of women. However, this is not based on longitudinal data, and may be put down to different levels of engagement in subsequent cohorts.

Civic engagement rates of people aged 50 years and over have risen slightly in the last 10 years (Gensicke, 2005a; Erlinghagen, 2009), predominantly in traditional age-specific sectors of volunteering such as senior dancing and sports groups or senior recreation centres (Künemund, 2006b). The increase was higher than in other age groups. The percentage of people aged 40 years or older pursuing a voluntary (p.101)

Table 5.3: Main areas of voluntary activity of older Germans, 2004

46-65 years

Over 65


Sports and exercise (11.5%)

Social affairs (7%)


Social affairs (7.5%)

Church and religion (6%)


Church and religion (same rank as above) (7.5%)

Sports and exercise (5.5%)

Source: Gensicke (2005b)

task or holding an honorary position in an organisation rose from 13 per cent in 1996 to 18 per cent in 2008 (Ageing Survey data at www.gerostat.de)According to the Volunteer Survey, the participation quotas among 60-year-olds and older people increased between 1999 and 2004, rising from 31 to 37 per cent in the age group 60-69 and from 10 to 14 per cent among those aged 80 and over.

Older people are especially active at the intersection of self-help activities and civic engagement on behalf of others (BMFSFJ, 2006). People covered by the Ageing Survey (aged 40-85) are seldom active in ‘new’ forms of civic commitment, for example, in self-help groups (Künemund, 2006b). As recorded in the SOEP, the share of ‘sporadically active’ people (as contrasted with those ‘frequently active’) rises with age (Rohleder and Bröscher, 2002). This may be somewhat surprising since older volunteers are supposed to have more time available.

The participation rates of women in voluntary work change markedly across the life span, while that of men is rather constant. One third of women aged 15-24 is engaged in voluntary activities. This level goes down to 27 per cent at the age of 25-34, reaches a peak at the age of 35-44 with 38 per cent, and falls to 18 per cent at the age of 65 years or older (Picot and Gensicke, 2005). Older women are more often volunteering in ‘traditional’ age-specific sectors and organisations than men (Künemund, 2006c). The prototypical older volunteer in Germany is either a 65-to 70-year-old or older retired male active in the ‘sports and exercise’ sector or a 65 to 70-year-old or older female former housewife active in the ‘social affairs’ sector.

Stressing the organisational level, there are examples in Germany of specific voluntary organisations that are targeting older volunteers, and these are mainly active on the local level. There are examples of organisations mainly oriented at providing an ‘altruistic’ type of volunteering, such as, for example, senior help seniors (in Minden the organisation carries out various activities aiming at preventing the need for the long-term care of very old people through mutual support), and also of organisations interested in self-expressive volunteering. For (p.102) example, at ZWAR, between work and retirement (North Rhine-Westfalia), members become voluntarily active in a self-chosen field. The current trends of their commitment are in intergenerational and housing projects (European Foundation, 2011).

Older People's Participation in Voluntary Organisations: Opportunities and Restrictions

In this section, factors that inhibit or foster the civic commitment of older people in Germany are analysed. At the micro level, individual preferences and level of education are taken into account and contrasted with possible beneficial structures on the meso and macro level. In this respect, employment and care responsibilities do not seem to represent, contrary to popular judgement, a hindrance for commitment.

Opportunities and Restrictions for Volunteering for Older People

Civic commitment declines in older age, in particular after the age of 70. This phenomenon is confirmed by all data sources already quoted in this chapter, with Table 5.4 visualising, however, the data collected just by the Ageing Survey.

According to multivariate analysis, the decreasing voluntary activity rates in older age cannot be explained by age-specific effects such as a deteriorating health status (Künemund, 2006b), but rather by formal age thresholds or other individual factors. Also, cohort effects are possible, as the educational level has the largest impact on the probability of volunteering. However, all previous three effects on the decreasing participation rates of older people are suppositions and have not yet been tested.

An argument in favour of cohort effects is the stronger orientation of people aged 50-59, compared to older cohorts, towards self-fulfilment, the wish to change things and social and political commitment. This encourages the conclusion that future cohorts of seniors will be more

Table 5.4: Gender-specific rates of voluntary activity, 2002 (%)

Age group
















Source: Data from the 2002 Ageing Survey (www.gerostat.de)

(p.103) interested in volunteering (Jakob, 2001; Brendgens and Braun, 2009). This is also relevant with regard to fostering the civic engagement of older people. A comparison based on the international SHARE data (Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe) shows that in countries with high voluntary activity rates among older people, structures exist that support a positive experience of well-being in performing voluntary work (BMFSFJ and FFG, 2008).

As already mentioned, the probability of taking up or continuing voluntary work at any age rises with educational level (Gensicke, 2005b; Künemund, 2006b). Also, social integration (for example, expressed by the number of friends) and affiliation to a church have a high predictive power in this regard (Gensicke, 2005b). Older people (50+) are more prone to take up a voluntary activity or to continue it if they have had experience with volunteering in former life phases (Erlinghagen, 2009). Early ‘inflow’ into voluntary work is more typical of ‘traditional’ forms of volunteering. In the case of ‘new’ forms, ties with the volunteers' biography consist of taking up self-referential activities (for example, people whose relatives are in a nursing home are more prone to engage in such a facility; see Jakob, 2001).

People who have considered a reduction of their voluntary work experience report physical and/or psychical burdens and problems with work–life balance more often than people who have not had such thoughts (Süßlin, 2008). Financial incentives do not influence the consideration of a reduction of voluntary work, although one third of people who do not perform voluntary work gave ‘I cannot afford it in financial terms’ as a reason for non-commitment (Süßlin, 2008). A higher percentage of volunteers assess their financial situation as ‘(very) good’ compared to those who are only interested in volunteering (Brendgens and Braun, 2009). Therefore, good material status is apparently an important resource, for both taking up and continuing voluntary work.

On the meso level, encouragement for engagement of older people is given by a variety of civil society organisations to different degrees, and support and impulses for organisations that are upheld by civic engagement are often provided by umbrella associations, as local resources in this respect are usually weak. Nevertheless, initiatives on the organisational level that target and support older people in particular are not very widespread (European Foundation, 2011). And although organisations can increasingly count on professional staff with expert knowledge on how to develop civic involvement in new fields with innovative methods, knowledge on the particular interests and needs of older volunteers is often lacking (Dienel, 2011). On the (p.104) whole, organisations where older volunteers are active do not seem to be prepared for future cohorts of ‘project-orientated’ seniors (Karl and Kolland, 2010).

On the macro level, engagement policy for older people has only recently become a growing policy field. In 2002, the Enquete Commission into ‘The future of civic commitment’ reported a set of recommendations for political strategies and action to develop volunteering in Germany. Since then, the government has gradually taken the function of supporting the development of civic engagement and civil society. The report also emphasised the potential of ‘younger seniors’ to provide productive community work. Thus, the civic engagement of older volunteers has been encouraged by a wide range of initiatives and model programmes, mainly launched by the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ). These measures are often supported by federal states, local authorities, non-profit organisations, associations and other initiatives serving the public good. However, all these initiatives were only valid for a limited time and have not been embedded into a sustainable and coherent engagement policy for older people.

Model programmes and initiatives promoted by the BMFSFJ for the older generation aim at opening up new engagement fields and at launching further incentives. This policy aimed to reach a new balance in responsibility between the state, market and citizens (BMFSFJ, 2008), through sponsored projects and networking measures such as voluntary agencies and various online platforms for volunteering.

The latest model programme, ‘Voluntary services of all generations’, ran in 2009-11 and was a continuation of the model programme, ‘Intergenerational voluntary services’ (2005-08). It was developed all over the country, through 46 ‘lighthouse projects’, mobile teams to deliver an advisory service for target groups, the qualification of volunteers and instructors, building up linked local and nationwide internet platforms.

In October 2010, the German government approved a National Strategy for the Promotion of Volunteering, including the implementation of a National Volunteering Service for all Generations, which is to replace the mandatory civilian service for young men. So far, the recruitment of older volunteers has gained more importance at the federal level. However, in the first year of its existence, 70 per cent of participants were aged 27 or younger (BFD, 2012), thus demonstrating that this measure does not particularly appeal to older people.

(p.105) Older People between Employment and Volunteering

Participation rates in volunteering among employed people aged 45 years and over are higher than among those who are unemployed or out of the labour force (Backes and Höltge, 2008), and in particular, the share of volunteers is lower among unemployed people of any age (Gensicke, 2005b). The trend of decreasing voluntary activity rates in older age (see Table 5.4) does not come into effect in the case of people who, although having reached retirement age, are still in employment (Brendgens and Braun, 2009). Employment seems therefore to activate resources that can be used for volunteering, both in the form of facilitated access to technical appliances (such as, for instance, a printer, computer and so on), qualifications and social contacts.

Some aspects of the employment relationship, however, do not play a univocal role in that respect, as shorter working hours, for instance, seem to stimulate the civic engagement of women (albeit not in Eastern Germany), while the opposite is true for men (Klenner and Pfahl, 2001).

The average retirement age in Germany and the employment rates of workers aged 55 years and over have both risen since 2000 (DRV, 2009), as has the employment rate of pensioners between 1996 and 2002 (Künemund, 2009). According to Eurostat data, in 2008 61.8 per cent of the male population aged 55-64 were employed (female: 46.1 per cent), and 9.9 per cent of the male population aged 65-69 (female: 5.6 per cent). Work orientation in the age group 50-65 compared to the total population in Germany is rather strong: 65.1 in the age group 50-65 strongly agree or agree with the statement ‘I would enjoy having a paid job even if I did not need the money’ (ISSP, 1997). Compared to other countries, the work orientation in the age group 50-65 is on an average level.

It is unclear whether the shifting time balance between employment and leisure time will bring about large changes in the participation rates of older people in voluntary work over the next decades. Empirical evidence seems to suggest that the timing of retirement is not a predictor of taking up voluntary work (Erlinghagen, 2009), and that time set free from work is not replaced with voluntary activities (Künemund, 2009). Moreover, civic engagement rates have risen between 1999 and 2004 in all age groups (with the exception of those younger than 30), irrespective of economic status (Gensicke, 2005b), although a reversal of the early exit trend was already visible at that time.

(p.106) In the context of raising the legal retirement age to 67, not only the form of work (flexible or not) but also the duration of working life and the standard of living among people retiring early becomes relevant for the reconciliation of gainful employment and civic engagement. On the one hand, as already observed, a higher retirement age is in principle assumed to strengthen older people's participation in volunteering; on the other hand, it may worsen the position of the ‘young-old’ who have left work or who have lost a job but who are not yet eligible for old-age pension (Künemund, 2009). This may reduce their ability to volunteer, as they will have to maintain their living standards by taking up temporary jobs.

It is known that companies can have a role in supporting employees' volunteering, through, for example, specific volunteer programmes. Nevertheless, even if there is some evidence of this in Germany within corporate social responsibility programmes (see also Chapter Eleven, this volume), the role of these initiatives is assumed to be not so significant, so far. This holds true for older volunteers in particular.

Older People between Family Care and Volunteering

In Germany, those in need of long-term care can opt for care provision from a commercial external provider of long-term care (benefits in kind), or be cared for by their own relatives, partners or friends (through benefits in cash). The latter option was established by the law as a ‘semi-formal’ form of care provided by relatives or friends, to be paid in relation to the degree of disability of the older person (Pfau-Effinger and Magdalenic, 2009, p 100). Care provided exclusively by family members is still the dominant form of long-term care in Germany, as its share reaches almost two thirds of all care given (Pfau-Effinger and Magdalenic, 2009).

The dominance of family care is also reflected in the predominant attitudes towards elder care. According to a Eurobarometer survey from 1998, almost 60 per cent of the population in West Germany and almost 50 per cent in East Germany would offer some kind of family support to their parents in need of care, and not rely on nursing homes or healthcare services.

According to data for Germany for 2002, 2.25 million people needed long-term care. Of these, more than two thirds (68.4 per cent) were cared for in private households, and the other 31.6 per cent in residential settings. Furthermore, of those care-dependent people living at home, another two thirds (67 per cent) relied wholly on informal care (BMG, 2010), revealing thus that formal home care (p.107) reaches about 22.6 per cent of people in need of long-term care.Focusing on beneficiaries of long-term care aged 65+, in 2006 6.7 per cent received home care and 3.8 per cent institutional care (Huber et al, 2009).

European-based studies seem to suggest that informal care provided to close relatives and civic engagement reinforce each other (Hank and Stuck, 2008). However, there are only few studies in Germany examining the correlation between these two dimensions. A general finding is that over-50-year-old Germans living in multi-person households have a higher chance of being involved in eldercare (Alscher et al, 2009). However, the field in which people with family responsibilities volunteer tends to remain within the same care sector (Jakob, 2001).

The Time Use Survey (Menning, 2006) uses the concept of ‘informal help (given to other households)’ but does not distinguish between the support given to family members and that provided to other people (with the exception of eldercare and the care of children living in the same household, which is, however, recorded as a separate item). People aged 60 years and older report higher participation rates in informal help (11-12 per cent) than those belonging to younger cohorts. The Ageing Survey measures informal help to people living both in the same household and in other households. The share of people engaged in family and non-family care of sick and frail people declines slightly between the ages of 40 and 85 in the case of women, although the time spent for these activities increases (Künemund, 2009). A similar development can be seen with regard to (grand) children care, while in the case of men only, those living in Eastern Germany show declining care rates between the ages of 40 and 85. This implies that care activities could have a crowding-out effect on the voluntary work of women in older age, but the study of possible interrelations has not been pursued further in this direction in the quoted study.

More information on the correlations between the domain of (family) care and volunteering performed by the over-50-year-old can be gained from the European SHARE survey, which distinguishes between ‘informal help for family members, friends and neighbours’ and ‘care’. The results point out a significant correlation between these three activity domains, in Germany (Alscher et al, 2009). In sum, the correlation between elder care and volunteering is still not so clear, in Germany, due to some contrasting results. (p.108)

Improving the match between Supply of Older Candidates with the demand of Voluntary Organisations: Future Perspectives

As good material security and educational status are important resources for both taking up and continuing voluntary work in older age (Gensicke, 2005b; Künemund, 2006b; Süßlin, 2008; Brendgens and Braun, 2009), how to activate other categories of older people should be taken into account, if the hidden reserve of potential volunteers is to be activated.

At the organisational level, targeted qualification measures are needed, in order to alleviate social inequalities in accessing specific forms of voluntary work for older women (political work) and older men (social work) (Backes and Höltge, 2008; Brendgens and Braun, 2009). Not only should older volunteers be included to a larger extent in qualification programmes, but also salaried staff in organisations of voluntary work and in senior agencies, in order to facilitate the coordination of volunteers and concerted work of staff and volunteers (Kühnlein and Böhle, 2002).

Groups of older people with lower educational resources should also be recruited to a larger extent by voluntary organisations. In Germany, this could be fostered by means of low-threshold measures, such as small projects with a defined beginning and end, or through the opportunity to inquire about civic engagement opportunities via a telephone hotline or online consultancy number (Menke, 2007). These ways of recruitment have been applied successfully by the Catholic charity Caritas within the governmental programme ‘Intergenerational Volunteer Services’ and beyond (Lencz and Plichta, 2009).

Measures targeted at the meso level and at improving voluntary organisations' capacities to engage more older volunteers should also aim at building a more professional volunteer administration and management (Hank and Erlinghagen, 2010). For the successful recruitment and retention of older volunteers, it seems necessary to extend qualification opportunities and to encourage volunteers to participate in the design and further development of their volunteering activities. Companies might encourage the civic engagement of people approaching retirement age by fostering the reconciliation of voluntary and paid work. Civic engagement could also be integrated into programmes for preparation to the transition into retirement, as an option for post-productive life. All this would require flexible infrastructures, especially in the big welfare organisations in Germany, (p.109) and a sound qualification of the professional staff in charge of older volunteers.

At the federal state level, a better and more sustainable policy of coordination and promotion is needed. The Report on the situation and perspectives of civic commitment in Germany (Alscher et al, 2009) recommends the coordination of engagement policy by a new ministry for civic engagement and civil society, in order to develop a cross-sectional policy. However, such an exposed governmental position could give rise to objections, as a dominant state-governing civil society might possibly restrain non-profit organisations. There are further recommendations that could also be realised independently: (1) a coordination authority within the government should link responsibilities of various ministries; (2) a special link between government and parliament is necessary and could be realised in the form of a subcommittee on ‘civic engagement’; and (3) coordination should be improved between the German state and the federal states as well as between voluntary organisations, in order to stimulate infrastructural development for civic engagement (Alscher et al, 2009).

Furthermore, as problems with work–life balance are considered as risk factors for giving up volunteering (Süßlin, 2008), policy should support the infrastructure that makes it possible to combine family care and civic engagement. The German social security system has already adopted measures to grant security contributions benefiting people caring for an older adult; similar steps could be taken for supporting voluntary work in the field of care of older, sick or disabled people, as well as in other areas (Backhaus-Maul and Brandhorst, 2001).

Both at the organisational and institutional level, increased voluntary activity rates in older age groups might also be achieved by establishing an ‘appreciation culture’ (Zeman, 2008). A representative survey of volunteers in the Catholic charity Caritas revealed that people who are prone to expand their voluntary activity experience, to a larger extent, joy, appreciation, freedom of decision and a positive challenge (Süßlin, 2008). However, the form of appreciation must fit in with the social expectations of the older volunteers concerned: volunteers who are less well-off might, for instance, favour lump-sum payments or benefits in kind, while others may prefer an award ceremony hosted by a high-ranking official.


The main areas of involvement of older people do not deviate much from those of the whole population, and show a growing need for (p.110) self-fulfilment in voluntary engagement. This fact may encourage the conclusion that future cohorts of seniors might be even more interested in voluntary work. However, this conclusion only holds true if the material and economic situation of older people will not worsen further, if voluntary organisations react accordingly and state authorities support voluntary initiatives on a more continuous basis.

Although senior potential for volunteering is of prominent interest in public, political and scientific discussions in Germany, several criticalities have still to be properly addressed:

  • individual preferences of future cohorts of older people have to be investigated further and be analysed, especially at the organisational level;

  • disadvantages affecting older people due to a so far lower educational level or to health problems in very old age should also be overcome in recruiting, training and health promotion in the workplace;

  • sizeable initiatives and programmes to promote older people's voluntary engagement are rather recent in Germany, and both the effects and sustainability of these measures are not clearly proven, yet. Thus, there is a need for in-depth evaluation and for a longstanding programmatic approach.

Direct measures in the German welfare mix need to reflect the different levels of possible interventions. Initiatives targeted at the micro-individual level – adding to what has been said already – need to consider that people who have had experience with volunteering in former life phases are more prone to volunteer in older age. This poses important conclusions for policy makers: people should be encouraged to take up voluntary work in earlier life phases, so this should be made more compatible with family or gainful work, as well as through appropriate investment in educational resources. The introduction of social security credits for voluntary work, and the equal treatment of ‘time credits’ and monetary donations in taxation, could also contribute to promote civic engagement among younger and middle-aged people.

On the background of the described development of volunteering in Germany, the support of municipalities at the local level plays an increasingly important role for civic engagement, as shown in the growing number of voluntary agencies/centres. While senior agencies are contact centres, especially for older people, voluntary agencies offer a service to all age groups. This is embedded in a general shift (p.111) currently taking place in Germany, from ‘senior’ to ‘intergenerational’ programmes, and to primarily establish forms of service open for people of all generations. This opened concept of civic engagement might enhance intergenerational relationships and understanding, and at the same time provide more room to take into account the different motivations and interests of volunteers themselves.

Besides direct measures to promote the voluntary engagement of older people, the German welfare mix has indirect effects on older adults' unpaid productive engagement and its role in society (Hank and Erlinghagen, 2010). Germany's traditional male breadwinner family model is transforming towards a male breadwinner/female part-time career model. Concerning the care sector, for example, this results in a semi-formal type of elder care. On the one hand, this may result in increasing conflict between the social expectations concerning the amount of older people's engagement in voluntary tasks and their own feeling of being (re-)obligated too much. On the other hand, if their role is strengthened, this may offer additional opportunities for satisfying older people's motivations to volunteer.


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