The rise of retired people seeking active participation in their communities has led researchers to define this new aspect of American life. As a result, civic engagement can now be considered a distinct retirement role, according to an article in the latest issue of The Gerontologist (Volume 48, Number 3).
The authors identify civic engagement as volunteerism and paid work — done for at least one day per week — that directly impact the local community. They also argue that a more precise meaning of civic engagement is important to policy makers and program administrators. This study found that engaged retires differ significantly from those who volunteer less, work in non-civic roles, or do neither.
Additionally, a concrete definition of civic engagement allows researchers to effectively and consistently study its effects. The article identifies the need for persuasive media campaigns, opportunities for engaged older adults to earn non-cash benefits, and stronger initiatives to allow all retirees to access this role, regardless of level of education, health status, socioeconomic status, and other characteristics.
The article was written by Brian Kaskie, PhD, who collaborated with a team of University of Iowa researchers including Sara Imhof, PhD, Joseph Cavanaugh, PhD, and Kennith Culp, PhD.
Their research encompassed a survey of nearly 700 retirees. The findings showed that 18 percent of respondents volunteered for more than five hours per week and that 6.3 percent held paid positions that were classified as civically engaged. The results also indicated that the non-engaged older adults tended to be less educated, less financially secure, and less healthy than their engaged counterparts.
Public attention directed toward the civic engagement of aging Americans has increased considerably over the past five years. It was a featured topic at the 2005 White House Conference on Aging and several national organizations now devote significant resources to the study of civic engagement.
The Gerontological Society of America made the subject a programmatic priority in 2004; the National Council on Aging and the American Society on Aging followed suit two years later.
Most recently, the 2006 reauthorization of the Older Americans Act provided new authority to the Administration on Aging to develop and implement programs that facilitate the civic engagement of older citizens.
Several researchers have linked civic engagement with healthy, successful aging and have suggested that persons who continue to work, find a second career, volunteer, or become involved in local affairs maintain better physical and mental health as they grow older.
This project was supported by an Iowa Workforce Development contract awarded to the University of Iowa Center on Aging.
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