Helping out or helping yourself? Volunteering and life satisfaction across the retirement transition

Par Bjalkebring*, Georg Henning, Daniel Vastfjall, Stephan Dickert, Yvonne Brehmer, Sandra Buratti, Isabelle Hansson, Boo Johansson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


It has been suggested that volunteering leads to increases in well-being, particularly in older and retiring adults, and that volunteering could be used as a public health intervention to increase well-being. However, the causal relationship has been questioned. We investigated the association between voluntary work and life satisfaction in a bivariate dual-change score model, using 4 years of longitudinal data from 1,123 participants from the Health, Aging and Retirement Transitions in Sweden (HEARTS) study. Both the frequency of volunteering and the level of life satisfaction increased across the retirement transition. However, baseline life satisfaction and volunteering were only marginally associated. Further, the coupling parameters suggest that higher levels of volunteering were followed by decreases in life satisfaction and that higher levels of life satisfaction were followed by increases in volunteering. These findings suggest that increasing levels of volunteering might not be a fruitful strategy for improving life satisfaction for all older adults-if people engage too much in voluntary work, it might even be detrimental for their life satisfaction. More research is needed to better understand when and for whom increased levels of volunteering might have positive effects on life satisfaction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-130
JournalPsychology and Aging
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • volunteers
  • aging
  • retirement
  • life satisfaction
  • AGE
  • RISK


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