This comprehensive book presents a unique and critical discussion of issues associated with older volunteers across eight different European countries. Its significance lies in its comparative analyses across diverse countries and contexts, and its attention to the contemporary challenges and changes faced by individuals, organisations and government policy in an era of population ageing. Fundamentally, this book asks the key and pertinent question, what can be done to enhance volunteering by older people in a diverse and changing world?
Volunteering is a complex social phenomenon, which has certainly been around for a long time. However, it has been described as an activity that has long been under-estimated, under-researched and under-valued. Studies on employment and the paid work context fill volumes of journals and whole libraries of books, but it is only much more recently that volunteering has been seen as a subject worthy of study.
The importance of volunteering and its relationship to other domains such as the state, the market and the family is increasingly being acknowledged.Volunteering has received some attention through the International Year of Volunteers in 2001 and the ensuing International Year of Volunteering +10 in 2011. Promotion by bodies such as the United Nations has encouraged many national governments to look at their approaches to volunteers and volunteering.
Within this context, the issue of older volunteers is particularly significant. Due to global population ageing, issues associated with a growing proportion of healthy older people are hitting the headlines. Older people are increasingly acknowledged as a segment of the population with much to offer, and volunteering is seen as a viable and positive option for many to keep them active and involved. Yet despite this, there is still a lack of good, comparative literature that investigates this phenomenon in depth and within its social, political and economic context.
This is the enormous value and contribution of this book. It focuses exclusively on older volunteers across different European countries with their diverse traditions and contexts, using active ageing, a key European Union (EU) policy approach, as an overarching theoretical frame. Furthermore, it does so using a conceptual framework that explores all levels of analysis: micro (individuals), meso (organisations), macro (policy and legal context) and structural (welfare regimes). It (p.xvi) therefore contributes to knowledge in all of these areas, and as such provides a thoroughly comprehensive view of volunteering by older people.
Part II of the book focuses on each of the eight countries. It highlights the incredible diversity across EU countries, from those with low levels of volunteering, such as Poland and Italy, to those with high levels, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, with their strong volunteer traditions. Using experts in each country to present an analysis of volunteering, the nature of the non-profit sector, and the broader policy context, provide important insights into the topic. In each case, volunteering in later life is also discussed in relation to employment and caring activities, with gender differences explored. A common chapter framework enables a comparison across countries, and highlights the quite dramatic differences between them despite their geographical proximity.
While the diverse scenarios provide fascinating insights into volunteering at the micro level, it is perhaps at the meso level where the contribution of this book is most profound. As the authors acknowledge, there is a growing body of knowledge about individual volunteers, their profiles and motives. However, far less is known about the attitudes of organisations. For example, this book has an excellent discussion of which strategies and approaches work, with organisational perspectives on age management, a useful concept from the paid work literature.
This rich collection helps to answer questions such as: What is being done to include more older volunteers? Is their contribution recognised? What works? By being fundamentally research-driven and future-oriented, this volume should attract a broad audience of researchers, policy makers, non-profit managers, volunteer coordinators and volunteers. It offers insights into this topic well beyond Europe, and I believe it will make a great contribution to the emerging evidence base on older volunteers.
Professor Jeni Warburton
Chair, John Richards Initiative,
La Trobe University, Australia