Explaining volunteering in old age : a social reinforcement perspective

  • Tsz Wai LAU

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


Volunteering has been widely accepted as potentially a very good means to engage older persons and to maximize their contribution to society. There is a need to understand the entire process of volunteering, the reasons that motivate older persons to participate in volunteer services and activities and to appreciate why committed elderly volunteers continue to involve themselves in volunteering. The present study attempts to explore the possible motivational and sustainable aspects in the process of volunteering guided by a social reinforcement perspective. It further aims to propose an explanatory model for the initiation and sustainability of volunteering involving older persons in Hong Kong. A theoretical framework of the study focuses on the social reinforcement perspective within the cognitive-behavioral approach in explaining the volunteering process in terms of antecedences, pre-conditions, actual experience and consequences of volunteering.

A questionnaire was distributed to explore the different aspects of volunteering, including the patterns of volunteer services, volunteer involvement, reasons for and effects of volunteering and personal profile of the volunteers. The target of the study was hospital volunteers aged 60 or above. The research design was a mail questionnaire survey using self-administered procedures. A total of 287 elderly respondents, 63 men and 224 women aged 60 to 86 years, drawn from the database of the Hospital Authority were assessed. The response rate was 30.3% with 1,359 valid responses.

The study showed that older volunteers satisfied the pre-conditions for volunteering, such as having good health, free time and financial stable. The present study revealed that a great majority (74%) of the older volunteer respondents was inspired by altruistic reasons of wanting to help and to feel contented and approximately half were initially motivated by the altruistic motive of social responsibility. Social motives of seeking social exposure, making new friends and sharing of experiences were other important initial reasons. These factors were sustained when respondents reported the reasons for their continued participation in volunteering. The respondents perceived obvious positive changes in physical, psychological, cognitive and social well-being and they were satisfied and gratified with the volunteering experiences. The research also revealed the positive changes in volunteer’s life satisfaction, exposure and experience, self-appraisal and confidence.

The positive outcomes of volunteering, such as enhanced self-esteem, life satisfaction and personal exposure help to affirm the initial intention of volunteering, which in turn reinforces the continual participation in volunteer services with the evidence of consistent findings of both initial and continual participation in volunteering.
Date of Award2003
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Sociology and Social Policy
SupervisorCheung-ming Alfred CHAN (Supervisor) & David Rosser PHILLIPS (Supervisor)

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