Summary and Keywords
Social participation is a key element of a healthy later life; and from a life course perspective, social participation declines in later life, due to separation from employment and educational institutions, loss of partners and friends, and restrictions due to functional limitations. Thus, maintaining and increasing participation has gained attention from researchers, program administrators, and policy developers. The term “social participation” means activities that involve social exchange and choice, and volunteering is consistently included. Personal, behavioral, health and social services, economics, and social and physical environmental factors have been associated with social participation and volunteering. Higher levels of human capital, social capital, and cultural capital have been associated with higher levels of participation; and the built and social environment can facilitate engagement. Studies demonstrate the positive effects of social participation and volunteering on physical, cognitive, and psychological health of older adults. Role theory and concepts of coping as well as cognitive enrichment have been used to explain these positive outcomes.
Volunteering, as a form of social participation, has received much academic attention in the last decade for a few reasons because, more than other social activities, it is altruistic. This feature may increase the health-producing benefits of engagement as well as create good for the community. It is often referred to as creating a “win-win” for the individual and for society.
Individual, group, and community interventions have been developed to increase social participation. However, evidence supporting effectiveness is limited and programs are underutilized. Future directions include wider implementation of interventions and more attention to the role of environment in increasing social participation, the use of technology in social participation, and increased understanding of the pathways through with social participation and volunteering improve well-being in later life.
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