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Participation of Older Adults in Virtual Volunteering: Research in the US

by on January 20, 2015

This post follows the posts by Chris Hine on another research blog (Volunteer Experience in the Digital Age) based on her reading of the The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook (published by Jayne Cravens and Susa J. Ellis see also their Wikispace).  Chris recommended an article to me and this post summarises the key points from:Mukherjee, Dhrubodhi. “Participation of Older Adults in Virtual Volunteering: A Qualitative Analysis.” Ageing International 36.2 (2011): 253-266.

The paper highlights the growing role of older people within ‘traditional’ volunteering roles in the US alongside research which suggests that their use of the internet is growing, despite the stereotype of a ‘digital divide’ between the use of the technology by different age groups.  The author observes that where older people are discussed as using internet technologies they are often portrayed as ‘passive consumers’ rather than a more active form of ‘civic participation’.

The term older isn’t specified though the research is conducted with a group of over 55s and the paper makes a connection with the ‘baby boomer’ generation who are anticipated as having increased opportunity to volunteer as they retire from paid employment.  (Though as we have blogged elsewhere this transition is becoming more messy with changing provision for retirement.)   Critically the author suggests that online volunteering may enable older volunteers to continue when they become less physically able; providing benefits to both volunteer and voluntary organisation.  However he notes that technologies will need to develop to allow for use in later life.

Key findings from the research include:

  • that participants did not themselves distinguish between ‘online’ and ‘traditional’ volunteering
  • Participants rejected their portrayal in the media.  The author states: “One of the participants expressed her disapproval to the tendencies of the media to define old-age from a biological point of view, by saying, “I feel like committing suicide when I hear terms like Golden Age, Silver Surfers, and Successful Aging.”” (p. 259).
  • Online volunteering provided a wider range of opportunities than might be accessible locally and also a new online social community for the volunteers (this is highlighted as a significant finding in the paper as a means to combating issues of loneliness in older age)
  • Virtual volunteering was often not entirely virtual involving some aspects of physical presence which strengthened social ties
  • High levels of education and previous technological experience was found to be an influence on older adults engagement with online volunteering
  • “older participants were less disengaged from the
    contemporary social discourse and looked forward to participate more actively through virtual volunteering” (p. 262)
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One Comment
  1. It’s such a pleasure to see my research quoted on a blog hosted by my former grad school, Open University (though I was in the Development Management program, rather than the Business School). I’m watching this research blog with great joy and anticipation!

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