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Baby Boomers Untapped Social Resource

22 July 2004 at 1:07 pm
Staff Reporter
Baby boomers have the potential to become a social resource of unprecedented proportions by actively participating in the life of their communities, according to a new US study. But will they participate?

Staff Reporter | 22 July 2004 at 1:07 pm


Baby Boomers Untapped Social Resource
22 July 2004 at 1:07 pm

Baby boomers have the potential to become a social resource of unprecedented proportions by actively participating in the life of their communities, according to a new US study. But will they participate?

Compared to their parents’ generation, the so-called “Greatest Generation,” the study declares that baby boomers have done less by every measure of civic engagement, including joining community groups.

The baby boomer potential has been examined in a report released by the Harvard School of Public Health in the US called the MetLife Foundation Initiative on Retirement and Civic Engagement.

The Report identifies strategies to expand the contributions of boomers to civic life. MetLife Foundation provided $US1 million to fund the Initiative.

The Report looks at the implications of aging boomers on society and ways to channel their skills and interests to strengthen local communities with the aim of being a planning tool for policymakers and program directors. The thinking translates well to the Australian setting.

Baby boomers are defined as those people born between 1946 and 1964. The oldest boomers are now 58 and are expected to live beyond the age of 83.

Sibyl Jacobson, MetLife Foundation President and CEO says boomers have an important opportunity to redefine aging and the productive role that people can play in later life by becoming involved in our communities.

The Harvard School of Public Health says the Report is a call-to-action for all sectors of society to develop plans for tapping the time, energy, and talents of older boomers to strengthen local communities.

Key observations in the Report include:

– Boomers say they will volunteer, but may need a push.
– Given that boomers have been far less civically engaged than the Greatest Generation at every stage to date, it is not clear to what extent they will fill their parents’ shoes through volunteer activity in their retirement years.
– Although close to one-third of boomers say they expect to participate in community service after retirement, there is a difference between intentions and actions, and boomers may need encouragement. Large-scale efforts may be needed to recruit boomers as volunteers.
– Contrary to conventional wisdom, more people volunteer in mid-life than in retirement. Generally, the percentage of people who volunteer reaches a peak in mid-life, not in retirement. Volunteering in this peak period is associated with having more, rather than fewer commitments. However, individuals who do volunteer during their early years of retirement do so with greater frequency than mid-life volunteers.
– Boomers are likely to continue working longer than their predecessors, and to move gradually towards retirement; if they remain in the workforce longer, they may stay connected to social networks that foster volunteering.
– Current language related to aging is obsolete. Words like “work,” “retirement,” “volunteer,” and language related to aging, may serve as barriers to redefining the meaning and purpose of one’s later years. New language, imagery, and stories are needed to help boomers and the general public re-envision the role and value of elders.
– The entertainment industry, given its role in storytelling across the social spectrum, may be the most promising vehicle for conveying alternative images of aging and portraying individuals of all ages participating in community life. In addition, the advertising industry can play a key role by offering alternatives to the narrow set of existing images that reflect current social attitudes toward aging.
– Organisations may need revamping to attract and retain boomer volunteers. Existing voluntary or charitable institutions may need to be re-assess ways to absorb boomer volunteers and take account of their interests and preferences.
– Public and private funders should recognise that volunteers are not free; they carry many associated costs. Many local agencies will not have the resources for professional volunteer management, so new mediating institutions, or third parties, may be needed to handle recruitment, training, and referral of boomers. This function will be especially important if boomers, as expected, look for customised volunteer opportunities that match their skills and interests.
– Inter-generational programs deserve attention.
– Initiatives that bridge the generations should build community by integrating the old with the young, transmitting knowledge and experience to future generations and re-enforcing the value of people of all ages. Studies have found that young people in such programs show measurable improvements in school attendance, attitudes toward school and the future, and attitudes toward elders. Adult volunteers report substantial benefits to themselves: the satisfaction of sharing their experience, feeling useful, and giving back to the community.

If you would like a copy of the complete study in PDF format, just send us an email with the words Harvard Boomers Report in the subject line to

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