Center on Race and Social Problems

Racial Disparities in Volunteer Experience and Subsequent Health

Principal Investigator(s): 
Date: 
January 1, 2005 to January 1, 2008
Description: 

This study was conducted between January 2006 and April 2007. The specific aims of this study were to:

  • Describe the racial distribution in volunteer programs that use older adults in a sample of older volunteers in Pittsburgh

  • Examine whether there is difference in health associated with volunteering between White and African-American older volunteers

  • Examine whether there is racial difference in perceived benefits from volunteer experience and organizational support in volunteer role performance


A survey questionnaire was completed by 194 adults aged 50 and older in the city of Pittsburgh. First, four senior centers with volunteer programs and a volunteer program sponsored in a hospital were identified and the directors were approached. Four of them agreed to participate and signed the agreement letter. After getting approval of IRB exempt review from the researcher’s institute, we implemented two surveys among volunteers and non-volunteers separately. The targeted sample size was 100 for each group. These volunteer programs relied heavily on older adults to tutor school children, provide general office services, register patients for surgery, serve congregate lunches, or assist in adult day care, activity program, and other programs. We asked volunteer program directors to distribute self-administered surveys to all of their current volunteers (N = 146.) Of the 146 surveys sent out between May and October 2006, 94 completed surveys were returned for a response rate of 64%.

In addition, participants in some activities and programs hosted within the senior centers were approached to participate in the research. A total of 104 subjects were recruited among numerous, mobile participants in senior centers. They were identified as non-volunteers as they reported no volunteering in the past 12 months. For these subjects, a trained research assistant distributed survey questionnaires and collected them back once the respondents completed the survey in the presence of the research assistant. These respondents were asked about their participation in senior center activities, their reasons for not volunteering, and about their other social and physical activities. Each respondent in both sample groups received a $10 gift card for their participation in the surveys. Out of a total of 198 returned surveys, we screened out 4 because the respondents were below age 50 at the survey time.

A brief report was sent to the volunteer program directors and two manuscripts have been sent for consideration of publication in two journals:

  • Tang, F., Heo, J., & Weissman, M. (under review). Racial Differences in Social Engagement and Health Status among Older Women. Submitted to Journal of Health and Social Policy.

  • Tang, F., & Copeland, V. C. (under review). Racial difference in late-life volunteering: An empowerment perspective. Submitted to Social Work.