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This study looks at older adults retiring between 1996 and 2004 to see who engages in formal volunteering after retirement. The results, based on data from the Health and Retirement Survey, show that while most volunteers acquire the volunteer habit while still working, a significant share begins volunteer work after retirement. Among adults who retire, 45 percent engage in formal volunteer activities even though only 34 percent of these same adults volunteered while working. Since boomer cohorts following this group will be much larger, nonprofit organizations seem destined to benefit from a significant growth in the services of retirees.
As the first of the baby boom generation starts qualifying for Social Security benefits in 2008, some analysts predict they will form an army of willing and able volunteers. Volunteering could substitute for paid work, keeping retired boomers engaged and nonprofit service organizations fully staffed. But the jury is still out on boomer retirees’ propensity to volunteer. Some research shows that boomers have been less civically engaged than preceding generations (Putnam 2002), leading others to forecast that boomer retirees will demand relatively few volunteer opportunities (Harvard School of Public Health 2004). Other, more recent studies show that boomers in their 50s volunteer at higher rates than earlier cohorts did and suggest a potential surge in demand for volunteer opportunities (Corporation for National and Community Service 2007).
What share of older adults substitutes volunteer for paid-work activities? Do most retired adults begin volunteering while working or after retiring? What characterizes individuals who volunteer postretirement? And does the commitment to volunteer intensify after retirement?
Only a few earlier studies shed light on transitions from working to volunteering. Using data from the Americans’ Changing Lives survey, Mutchler, Burr, and Caro (2003) examine the work and volunteer participation activities of individuals age 55 to 74 in 1986 and in 1989. Among individuals not volunteering for formal organizations at the time of the first interview, the researchers find those who worked parttime, those who had not worked in either period, and those who stopped work between the two interviews participated more often in formal volunteer activities at the second interview than full-time workers did. The researchers also emphasize the strong continuity of volunteer activity. Three-quarters of those who volunteered in 1986 were still volunteering three years later. Only 16 percent of the sample that reported no volunteer activities in the first interview was volunteering three years later.
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