Invisible Civic Engagement among Older Adults: Valuing the Contributions of Informal Volunteering

Iveris L. Martinez, Donneth Crooks, Kristen S. Kim, Elizabeth Tanner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


There is a growing call for civic engagement, largely in the form of formal volunteering, among older adults in America. This call is a response to the aging of the baby boom population, believed to be the healthiest and wealthiest cohort of older adults to date. It also coincides with the devolution of welfare programs. We argue that current discussions of civic engagement are too narrow and may exclude important informal contributions that older adults make to civic society, and put undue stress on, and devalue those who may not contribute to society due to poor health, poverty or other barriers. We draw on data collected from older adults of lower socio-economic status and diverse ethnic backgrounds in Baltimore City using focus groups to explore their definitions of volunteering and barriers which they face. Through a discussion of existing barriers and motivators for engagement, we critically assess the use of these terms and advance discussions on how to facilitate and value contributions of all older adults. We conclude that civic engagement includes more than formal volunteering and that significant barriers need to be removed to facilitate greater participation of all elders in both formal and informal activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-37
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2011


  • Barriers
  • Civic engagement
  • Health outcomes
  • Motives
  • Older adults
  • Volunteerism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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