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Connecting and Giving: A Report on How Mid-life and Older Americans Spend Their Time, Make Connections and Build Communities

Since its beginning, AARP has placed a priority on community service and civic involvement. Its founder, Ethel Percy Andrus, urged members “to serve, not be served,” and she challenged members to “create the good” by helping others in their communities.

AARP has tracked the trends in this area periodically, measuring the extent and nature of volunteering among Baby Boomers, AARP members, and others. However, much has changed since the last study was conducted in 1997: 9/11, two recessions, the aging of the Baby Boom Generation, and a workplace characterized by longer hours and telecommuting.  This report examines how these trends and others have impacted the extent and nature of the community involvement and civic participation of mid-life and older Americans.

Key findings of the August 2009 telephone survey revealed that:

  • The nature of civic engagement is changing, becoming more personal and more secular.  Mid-life and older Americans are less likely to join organizations. Although membership in religious organizations remains a relatively popular activity, involvement in these organizations has declined.
  • While the rate of traditional volunteering (i.e., volunteering through or for an organization) has held steady, the amount of time volunteers spend in service has declined as volunteering becomes more episodic.  In 2003 and 2009, 51 percent of survey respondents reported volunteering in the prior year. Volunteers in the 2003 study, however, reported spending an average of 15 hours a month in volunteer service. In 2009, volunteers report spending an average of 6-10 hours per month in service—a decline of 5-9 hours per month over the 6-year time period.
  • Informal volunteering (that is, volunteering on one’s own) has significantly increased since 2003. In 2003, 34 percent of respondents reported volunteering on their own (compared with 57 percent of respondents in 2009).
  • Volunteering is a way of life for many AARP members. Fifty-three percent of AARP members report volunteering through an organization in the past year and spent 6-10 hours per month, on average, in volunteer service.
  • Age continues to be highly correlated with volunteering. Generation X (currently between the ages of 29 and 44) has the highest rates of volunteering, while the Greatest Generation (age 81 and older) has the lowest rates.

The telephone interviews were conducted for AARP during August 1-31, 2009, by Opinion Access Corporation.  Respondents included 1,475 Americans ages 45 years and older (members of the Baby Boom, Silent, and Greatest Generations) and, for comparative purposes, 500 members of Generation X (ages 29-44), 470 African Americans, and 447 Hispanics.  For further information, contact Alicia Williams, Ph.D., at 202-434-6186, or Robert H. Prisuta, Ph.D., at 202-434-6458. (71 pages)