Study of Cognitive Benefits of Volunteering – Santa Clara County Project

Mounting evidence suggests that volunteering confers psychological and physical benefits to older volunteers, along with obvious gains for communities. The Center has established a partnership with the leadership of Santa Clara County, California to enable research with a large and diverse workforce in order to better understand volunteering preferences. In collaboration with Jack Rowe and with initial funding from the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society and the National Institute on Aging, in November 2013 we completed a survey of current and retired Santa Clara County employees to identify barriers and incentives for volunteer engagement as well as current volunteer participation behavior.

Over 4,000 employees and retirees participated in the survey. Survey respondents represented the entire adult life span, from 20 to 96 years of age, as well as a high degree of ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. Data analysis is currently ongoing, and preliminary findings were presented in a meeting of the MacArthur Research Network on an Aging Society (September 2013) as well as in a symposium at the annual meetings of the Gerontological Society of America (November 2013).

Findings from the survey indicate significant age differences in motivations to volunteer. Older workers and retirees were relatively more motivated by the prospect of improved well-being and emotional meaning, whereas younger workers were relatively more motivated by the potential that volunteering may improve their future prospect. We are currently working with the leadership of Santa Clara County to design a scalable intervention to increase volunteering engagement in the county. We plan to test different recruitment approaches through the intervention, with particular attention to the efficacy of targeting age-related motivations identified in our survey.