The Effect of Self-Motivated vs. Other-Oriented Volunteering on Lifespan

Several earlier studies have shown that volunteering improves both physical and mental health, and thereby increases the longevity of the volunteers. People volunteer with several motives, one of them being for personal benefit. This kind of volunteering is called “self-oriented volunteering.” Selfless type of volunteering is called “other-oriented volunteering.” The current study examined which type of volunteering is more effective in reducing mortality. According to the study authors, “Volunteers live longer than nonvolunteers, but this is only true if they volunteer for other-oriented reasons.”

In spite of increase in the average lifespan from 76.6 years in 1998 to 78.4 years in 2008, many people in the U.S. are dying prematurely due to preventable diseases, such as coronary heart disease. Volunteering, especially if done by elderly people, has been proven to increase longevity. However, so far, no study has examined the influence of the motives of volunteering on increasing longevity. In the present study, the effects of two types of motives, self-oriented and other-oriented, were compared. Self-oriented volunteering, which is done for career promotion, acquiring new skills, self-protection, and so on, was hypothesized to be futile in providing benefits of volunteering. The researchers also evaluated whether “no volunteering” is better than “self-oriented volunteering.”

* The study included 10,317 participants who had completed their graduation from Wisconsin high school in 1957.
* In 2004, when the average age of participants was 69 years, details related to their volunteering activities were observed. The observations included frequency and duration of volunteering and the motive for volunteering. The motives were assessed by using “Volunteer Functions Inventory”.
* Data regarding various confounding factors such as age, sex, marital status, religious attendance, socioeconomic status, social support, physical health, and mental health were also collected.
* The participants were followed up for the next four years (up to 2008), and the number of participants deceased was noted.

* Respondents who volunteered in the past 10 years had a significantly reduced mortality risk four years later.” This was significantly affected by the regularity and duration of involvement in volunteering.
* The participants who volunteered with “other-oriented” motives had considerably lower mortality compared to “self-oriented” volunteers and nonvolunteers. Higher risk of mortality was observed in participants who stated self-oriented motives. Similar findings were observed even when all confounding factors were taken into consideration.
* “Overall, 4.3 percent of nonvolunteers were deceased four years later, which was similar to the proportion of deceased respondents among self-oriented volunteers (4.0 percent). However, only 1.6 percent of other-oriented volunteers were deceased four years later.”

Shortcomings/Next steps
In the present study, only an association between the motives for volunteering and survival was found out. There may be some underlying factors that were not taken into account in this study. Since all the participants of the present study were Caucasian, non-Hispanic respondents, it is not possible to generalize the findings of this study. Moreover, the follow-up period of four years is a short time. Further follow-up of participants is necessary to validate the findings of the present study.

The present study confirms the observation that volunteers live longer than nonvolunteers. A significant finding of this study is that people who engage in selfless volunteering have greater benefits in the form of enhanced survival. Volunteering, if done with a self-centered motive, becomes stressful, and causes the person to burn out. Further studies are necessary to explore the mechanisms responsible for increasing longevity in “other-oriented” volunteers. Various organizations such as President Obama’s “Organizing for America” are encouraging volunteering. Several Web sites also promote volunteering, stating that the volunteering provides benefits to the volunteers. Such Web sites must consider the findings of this study and should modify their advertisements accordingly, so that volunteers are aware of the enhanced health benefits that they can gain by volunteering.

For More Information:
Motives for Volunteering are Associated with Mortality Risk in Older Adults
Publication Journal: Health Psychology, 2011
By Sara Konrath; Andrea Fuhrel-Forbis; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

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