Experts Respond to Volunteer Survey

By Kleyman, Paul | Aging Today, January/February 2003 | Go to article overview

Experts Respond to Volunteer Survey


Kleyman, Paul, Aging Today


A key barrier to fully enlisting older people as volunteers, said Peter D. Hart in presenting his study The New Face of Retirement at the 4th Annual Coming of Age conference, "is that we have not figured out as a society how to give true value to volunteerism." He commented, "If we're really going to have volunteerism fully appreciated and regarded as important in our society, we have to think about how to sell that message and how to make it something that is special and revered."

Hart presented results of his survey of 6oo Americans ages 50-75 (see article beginning on page 1) at the conference held by Civic Ventures, which sponsored the study. One discussant who was asked to respond to Hart's report was sociologist Phyllis Moen, long a researcher on retirement issues at Cornell University. Moen, author of the new book It's About Time: Couples and Careers (Ithaca, NX: Cornell University Press, 2003) said that American society needs to make significant changes in attitude about late life in order to accommodate the large number of boomers who are entering the "midcourse stage" of their lives.

MIDCOURSE STAGE

Moen, who recently moved to the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, added, "My vision is that this midcourse stage will be, instead of working for profit or status and prestige, more about working to help build our community," Moen explained. "The focus should be not so much on paid or unpaid, but maybe going back and teaching, working as a nurse's aide, or doing some kind of work that is in the public interest."

Before individuals can adopt this view, she said, society has to appreciate unpaid contributions. Currently, federal agencies collect little data on volunteering, and most of the statistics they gather on employment in later years is limited to "prime-age workers" of only 45-50 years old.

Moen said Hart's survey for Civic Ventures adds to research showing that "we don't have one group of people who volunteer, one group who are workers and one group who are none of the above." The survey shows that 25% of respondents were volunteering when they were interviewed, but another 32%-a third of the population ages 50-75-had volunteered in the past three years. "People move in and out of different activities much more than in the past," Moen emphasized. Accounting for these "midcourse corrections" will encompass important policy and research challenges, she said.

RIPE FOR VOLUNTEERISM

"Retiring is almost meaningless now," stated James P Firman, president and CEO of the National Council on the Aging, Washington, D. …

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