Volunteering and Subjective Well-Being in Midlife and Older Adults: The Role of Supportive Social Networks

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Abstract

Objective.

This study examined the extent to which associations between volunteering and subjective well-being (SWB) could be related to volunteers having more supportive social networks relative to nonvolunteers.

Method.

The sample consisted of 561 midlife and older adults (aged 55–94 years) from the TRAnsitions In Later Life study. Multiple mediation analyses examined associations between hours spent volunteering per week; availability of social support from friends, relatives, and neighbors; positive and negative social exchanges; and SWB.

Results.

The results indicated that the higher life satisfaction and positive affect reported by those who volunteer at moderate levels (up to 7 hr per week) are related to their higher levels of positive social exchanges and greater availability of social support from friends and family, relative to nonvolunteers. Those who volunteer at higher levels (7 hr or more per week) also reported greater levels of positive affect in comparison to nonvolunteers, and this was related to their greater availability of social support from friends. Availability of support from friends accounted for the greatest proportion of the volunteering–SWB associations.

Discussion.

The findings suggest that the positive SWB associated with volunteering is related to volunteers’ more extensive friend and family networks.

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