Academic journal article Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

Perceived Effects of Voluntarism on Marital Life in Late Adulthood

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

Perceived Effects of Voluntarism on Marital Life in Late Adulthood

Article excerpt

The article presents a study dealing with the perceived effects of voluntarism on marital life in late adulthood among a sample of 595 Israelis (336 men and 259 women). These perceptions were examined from three perspectives: benefits, spousal accommodation, and harmful effects. Comparisons focused on different types of families, based on employment status (pre-retired versus retired) and actual volunteer activity (volunteer versus non-volunteer). The findings revealed that among all types of families, the prevailing tendency was to emphasize the beneficial effects of voluntarism on marital life, whereas perceived harmful effects were least prevalent. Synchronous families (both partners pre-retired) and asynchronous families (pre-retired participant / retired spouse) emphasized the need for spousal accommodation to marital life more than the other two types of families. In addition, men were found to emphasize the need for spousal accommodation more than do women. In asynchronous families (one partner pre-retired and the other retired), women showed a greater tendency than men to mention the harmful effects of voluntarism for the marital relationship. Congruent families (where both partners volunteer) showed a greater tendency to perceive voluntarism as having a beneficial effect on marital life than did other types of families.

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Voluntarism has become an integral part of leisure culture in modern societies. This trend can be attributed, among other causes, to the awareness that welfare states are no longer able to provide adequate responses to needy populations. Thus, in many Western societies volunteers play an important role in supplementing and improving the services provided by various human service organizations (Hayghe, 1991). In fact, there are those who view voluntarism as a career in itself. In this connection, senior citizens are a potential source of volunteer assistance because they generally have free time and extensive life experience (Fisher, Mueller, Cooper, & Chase, 1989). Given the growing centrality of voluntarism in the lives of senior citizens, there is a need to examine the factors that encourage voluntarism among that population. Although a number of studies have dealt with voluntarism among elderly populations, they have focused on specific issues such as motives for voluntarism in late adulthood (Herzog & House, 1991; Hulbert & Chase, 1991), health and voluntarism (Cohen-Mansfield, 1989) and background variables affecting voluntarism among elderly populations (Fisher & Schaffer, 1993). Thus, there is a lack of research on the family context of voluntarism in general and the perceived impact of voluntarism on marital relations in particular.

The basic assumption of the current study was that volunteer work, like paid employment, affects marital dynamics. On the one hand, it may enrich and vitalize spousal relations in late adulthood. On the other, when one partner volunteers and the other does not, jealousy and tension may ensue, especially considering that social contacts usually diminish after retirement (Kulik, 1999). Although attitudes toward the impact of spousal voluntarism may play an important role in stimulating or restraining volunteer activity among senior citizens, this topic has not received sufficient research attention. In an attempt to fill this gap, the current study examined the perceived impact of voluntarism on marital relations among elderly persons in Israel. These attitudes were examined from three perspectives: Perceived beneficial effects (e.g., the contribution of voluntarism toward enrichment of marital life); perceived harmful effects (e.g., marital tension or feelings of jealousy), and the need for spousal accommodation (e.g., taking the partner's schedule into consideration and accommodating volunteer activity to the partner's needs).

The study also examined whether the perceived impact of voluntarism on marital is affected by gender. …

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