162 Generativity in Late Adulthood

Martha Lally; Suzanne Valentine-French; and Dinesh Ramoo

Research suggests that generativity is not just a concern for midlife adults but that for many older adults concerns about future generations continue into late adulthood. As previously discussed, some older adults are continuing to work beyond age sixty-five. Additionally, they are volunteering in their community and raising their grandchildren in greater numbers.


Many older adults spend time volunteering. Hooyman and Kiyak (2011) found that religious organizations are the primary settings for encouraging and providing opportunities to volunteer. Hospitals and environmental groups also provide volunteer opportunities for older adults. While volunteering peaks in middle adulthood, it continues to remain high among adults in their sixties, with about 40 percent engaging in volunteerism (Hooyman and Kiyak, 2011). While the number of older adults volunteering their time does decline with age, the number of hours older adults volunteer does not show much decline until they are in their late seventies (Hendricks and Cutler, 2004). African American older adults volunteer at higher levels than other ethnic groups (Taylor, Chatters, and Leving, 2004). Taylor and colleagues attribute this to the higher involvement in religious organizations by older African Americans.

Volunteering group sitting at their information table.
Figure 9.36: Volunteerism in older adults

Volunteering aids older adults as much as it does the community at large. Older adults who volunteer experience more social contact, which has been linked to higher rates of life satisfaction, and lower rates of depression and anxiety (Pilkington, Windsor, and Crisp, 2012).

Longitudinal research also finds a strong link between health in later adulthood and volunteering (Kahana, Bhatta, Lovegreen, Kahana, and Midlarsky, 2013). Lee and colleagues found that even among the oldest-old, the death rate of those who volunteer is half that of non-volunteers (Lee, Steinman, and Tan, 2011). However, older adults who volunteer may already be healthier, which is why they can volunteer compared to their less healthy agemates.

New opportunities exist for older adults to serve as virtual volunteers by dialoguing online with others from around the world and sharing their support, interests, and expertise. These volunteer opportunities range from helping teens with their writing to communicating with ‘neighbours’ in villages of developing countries. Virtual volunteering is available to those who cannot engage in face-to-face interactions, and it opens up a new world of possibilities and ways to connect, maintain identity, and be productive.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

According to the 2014 American Community Survey (U.S. Census, 2014a), over 5.5 million children under the age of eighteen were living in families headed by a grandparent. This was more than a half a million increase from 2010. While most grandparents raising grandchildren are between the ages of fifty-five and sixty-four, approximately 25 percent of grandparents raising their grandchildren are sixty-five and older (Office on Women’s Health, 2010a).

Grandparents and two grandchildren.
Figure 9.37: Grandparents and grandchildren

For many grandparents, parenting a second time can be harder. Older adults have far less energy, and often the reason why they are now acting as parents to their grandchildren is because of traumatic events. A survey by AARP (Goyer, 2010) found that grandparents were raising their grandchildren because the parents had problems with drugs and alcohol, had a mental illness, were incarcerated, had divorced, had a chronic illness, were homeless, had neglected or abused the child, were deployed in the military, or had died. While most grandparents state they gain great joy from raising their grandchildren, they also face greater financial, health, education, and housing challenges that often derail their retirement plans than do grandparents who do not have primary responsibility for raising their grandchildren.

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Generativity in Late Adulthood Copyright © 2022 by Martha Lally; Suzanne Valentine-French; and Dinesh Ramoo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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