The role of volunteering in successful ageing : impacts on psychological well-being of older persons

  • Sin Yui, Sharon CHAN

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


The thesis looks at volunteering, an activity in which time is freely given as a gift to benefit other people, groups and society. Formal volunteering, as opposed to informal helping, entails stronger commitment via organisations that offer more or less organised assistance often on an individual basis. The thesis suggests that older retired persons provide an invaluable pool of formal voluntary workers amidst the growing need for social services and fewer resources for social welfare expenditure. This pool will grow even more in the future. Moreover, the research looks at the experiences of social engagement in older and associations between volunteering and psychological well-being (PWB) of older persons, including improved self-esteem and life satisfaction. This is novel research on this aspect of volunteering in Chinese societies.

The research was informed by activity theory, role theory and the concepts of successful ageing and productive ageing. It was essentially as qualitative study with the aims of identifying motivations for volunteering, the role(s) of volunteering, related effects on PWB of older persons, and perceptions of benefits and impacts of volunteering on older persons’ PWB. PWB was measured on two foci, subjective well-being (life satisfaction, self-esteem, positive/negative affects) and objective well-being, including depression, anxiety, social impairment and hypochondriasis, the four identifiable elements of distress covered in the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12). Data were gathered from two groups of 60-to-75-year-old retired respondents, volunteers (n=56) and non-volunteers (n=21), through the use of triangulation (focus group interviews, in-depth case interviews and questionnaire). The responses were processed using mainly qualitative data and descriptive analysis, followed by a comparison of GHQ-12 score difference between volunteers and nonvolunteers.

The thesis has sufficient data, novelty and academic merit. It also has some very useful findings, showing that volunteering in old age can be inspired by selfmotivation, can be encouraged by others and can be seen as a way to show gratitude to society. Volunteers were found to have significantly higher level of self-rated health, life satisfaction, self-image and PWB. Volunteering seems to alleviate volunteers’ negative emotions. Interestingly, although older volunteers perceive volunteering mainly as a leisure activity, they are aware of some type of optimal level of social participation, implying that adverse effects of excess participation in volunteering on PWB may be being recognized among older persons. The thesis should provide ample material for publications in the refereed journals.
Date of Award2006
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Sociology and Social Policy
SupervisorDavid Rosser PHILLIPS (Supervisor) & Cheung-ming Alfred CHAN (Supervisor)

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