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The Impact of the Social Environment on the Health Effects of Voluntary Commitment of Older People (SPATIAL)

Content and Objective

In recent years, perceptions of age have been playing an increased role in ageing research which stress the potential societal participation and skills of elderly people within the definition of “active” or “productive ageing”. The implementation of these models is fundamentally contingent on the maintenance of optimum health in the course of ageing, which might delay the occurrence of chronic-degenerative age-related diseases until a brief period immediately before death (“compression of morbidity”).

There is currently much empirical evidence documenting the salutogenic impact of voluntary commitment by older people in civil society. Such studies have nevertheless given little consideration so far to the local social contexts in which the various forms of voluntary activity are entrenched. An individualistic conception of voluntary commitment however poses the risk of neglecting major ecological influencing factors which could be used for “healthy ageing”. What is more, it offers very few avenues for political intervention.

The project aims to fill this gap in the research. It analyses how the salutogenic effect of voluntary commitment is influenced by the physical social, economic and demographic characteristics of the environment in which older people live. In urban regions, the socialisation observed here comprises the neighbourhood or district, and in urban-peripheral areas the community, as elderly people’s direct living environment. Socialisation characteristics include the age structure, ethnic composition, physical and social environment and socioeconomic status of a neighbourhood. It is presumed that an indirect effect is exerted by the neighbourhood context, i.e. socialisation factors can favour or limit the salutogenic effect of older people’s voluntary commitment. “Healthy ageing” is investigated from a life course-related perspective. The goal is to demonstrate to policy-makers approaches which may amplify the health-promoting impact of a commitment within civil society which is founded in older people’s living environment, and hence go beyond individual characteristics or supplement them.


Mergenthaler, Andreas (2015): Community, Volunteering, and Health in Mid- and Older Adulthood: Evidence from a Longitudinal Sample of the German Ageing Survey (DEAS). In: Doblhammer, Gabriele (ed.): Health among the Elderly in Germany: New Evidence on Disease, Disability and Care Need. Beiträge zur Bevölkerungswissenschaft, Vol. 46. Opladen, Berlin, Toronto: Verlag Barbara Budrich: 59-81

Additional Information


Dr. Andreas Mergenthaler

Phone: +49 611 75 2942
Fax: +49 611 75 3960

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