Selfless volunteering might lengthen your life, research suggests
Motivation for volunteering affects its potential benefits, research finds.
constraints and lack of pay,” said the study’s lead author,
Sara Konrath, PhD, of the University of Michigan.
Researchers examined data from the Wisconsin
Longitudinal Study, which has followed a random
sample of 10,317 Wisconsin high school students from
their graduation in 1957 until the present. The sample is
51. 6 percent female, with an average age of 69. 16 years
In 2004, respondents reported whether they had
volunteered within the past 10 years and how regularly.
They reported their reasons for volunteering (or the
reasons they would volunteer, for those who had not
done so) by answering 10 questions. Some motives were
more oriented toward others (e.g., “I feel it is important
to help others” or “Volunteering is an important activity
to the people I know best”) and some were more self-oriented (e.g., “Volunteering is a good escape from my
own troubles” or “Volunteering makes me feel better
The researchers also considered the respondents’
physical health, socioeconomic status, marital status,
health-risk factors (such as smoking, body mass index
and alcohol use), mental health and social support.
Much of this information was collected in 1992,
12 years before the respondents were asked about
their volunteering experience. The researchers then
determined how many of the respondents were still alive
Overall, 4. 3 percent of 2,384 non-volunteers were
deceased four years later, which was similar to the
proportion of deceased volunteers who reported more
People who volunteer may live longer than those who don’t, as
long as their reasons for volunteering are to help others rather
than themselves, suggests new research published online in the
APA journal Health Psychology.
This was the first time research has shown volunteers’
motives can have a significant impact on life span. Volunteers
lived longer than people who didn’t volunteer if they reported
altruistic values or a desire for social connections as the main
reasons for wanting to volunteer, according to the study. People
who said they volunteered for their own personal satisfaction
self-oriented motives for volunteering ( 4 percent).
However, only 1. 6 percent of those volunteers whose
motivations were more focused on others were dead four years
later. This effect remained significant even when controlling
for all the variables. Additionally, respondents who listed social
connection or altruistic values as their predominant motive
were more likely to be alive compared with non-volunteers.
“It is reasonable for people to volunteer in part because
of benefits to the self; however, our research implies that
should these benefits to the self become the main motive for
volunteering, they may not see those benefits,” says study co-
had the same mortality rate four years later as people who did
not volunteer at all, according to the study.
“This could mean that people who volunteer with other
people as their main motivation may be buffered from
potential stressors associated with volunteering, such as time
author Andrea Fuhrel-Forbis.
Read the full study at http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/