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Losing your friends as you get older? Volunteering might fill the void

Kaarin Anstey

People who spend more time volunteering in older age tend to be more satisfied with life, and that is especially true of people who have lost friends, says CEPAR Deputy Director Professor Kaarin Anstey in her recent paper ‘Volunteering benefits life satisfaction over 4 years: The moderating role of social network size’.

In their paper, published in the Australian Journal of Psychology, Professor Anstey and her co-authors show the importance of social engagement for mental health in older adulthood.

"Social engagement benefits emotional well-being, but the mechanisms need to be better understood," said Professor Anstey.

"Using volunteering as an example of social engagement, we examined whether volunteering would be beneficial to life satisfaction, and explored the moderating role of the social network size. We also investigated motivations to volunteer."

The research team found that more frequent volunteering was associated with a higher level of increase in life satisfaction.

“The more people volunteered, the more their life satisfaction increased. This effect was stronger in the people who lost more friends as compared to those who lost less friends,” said Professor Anstey.

“We also found that emotional goals motivate both short-term and long-term volunteering,” she said.

“These research findings highlight the importance of social engagement for mental health in older adulthood. It suggests those with smaller networks could stand to benefit the most from volunteering, and that focussing on emotional goals can promote and maintain volunteering behaviours,” Professor Anstey said.