Social Productivity and Well-being of Older People: A Sociological Exploration

Johannes Siegrist, Olaf Von Dem Knesebeck, Craig Evan Pollack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Social productivity - including paid work, volunteer work, care of family members, and informal help to friends - has been linked to health and well-being in older populations. This paper argues that social productivity is a form of inter-personal exchange founded on the notion of reciprocity. As the activities are socially valued, efforts are expended in return for rewards. When efforts are not matched by rewards, an imbalance exists that has the capability to damage the individual's health and well-being. Strong internal motivations for engaging in activities, including the need for self-agency and for self-esteem, may help explain why people stay involved in activities characterized by imbalance and are seen as pathways that may mediate the relationship with health. Different societal structures that act as barriers to social productivity are explored in light of reciprocity and the possibility for imbalance. Last, the potential link between reciprocity in social productivity and the social gradient in older people's health is highlighted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalSocial Theory and Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • older people
  • productive activity
  • reciprocity
  • social productivity
  • well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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