Hameister, Nicole; Huxhold, Oliver
German Centre of Gerontology, Germany
Social integration is a fundamental human need (Baumeister & Leary, 1995): individuals require regular social exchange in a context of mutual appreciation. In addition, social relations commonly provide the resources to tackle life’s adversities (Uchino, Bowen, Carlisle, & Birmingham, 2012). If social integration is perceived as being insufficient, feelings such as loneliness might arise (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010). Being lonely in turn is related to health risks and can be compared with the negative influences of smoking, excess weight and high blood pressure (Luo, Hawkley, Waite, & Cacioppo, 2012). Identifying factors that contribute to social integration and antagonise the risks of loneliness therefore is important. Our basic hypothesis is that voluntary activities might prove to be one protective factor against loneliness. Especially older individuals might profit from these buffering effects, as their social networks are usually smaller. Data base is the third wave of the German Survey on Volunteering (conducted in 2009), a representative telephone survey of voluntary activities of 20.005 persons aged 14 and older in Germany. We focus on comparing older against younger individuals and describe whether volunteers display higher levels of integration (in terms of personal network, social support and local social cohesion). We multivariately analyse the impact of volunteering on individual integration factors and present how voluntary activities correlate with social resources, while specifically adressing age group/predictor interactions. Finally, we can conclude that (especially long-lasting) volunteering can serve as a protective factor against the hazards of not being integrated in older age.