The contemporary discussion about the growing ‘burden of population ageing’ should not neglect the substantial productive potential of older people. Using micro-data from the 2004 Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), this paper examines the relationships between selected socio-demographic characteristics and the rates of participation in voluntary work in 10 European countries among those aged 50 or more years. The analysis reveals a clear spatial pattern, with relatively high participation rates in Northern Europe and relatively low participation rates in Mediterranean countries, and shows that age, education, health and involvement in other social activities strongly influence an individual's propensity to engage in volunteer work. A multivariate logistic regression provided no indication that the country differences can be explained by variations in population composition or attributes, such as the age structure or differences in health status. The findings have important implications for future cross-national research and for policies to promote the participation of older adults in voluntary work, and suggest that policies and programmes to encourage older citizens to make greater use of their productive capacities are feasible. It is concluded that further research needs to account for the influences of institutions and culture on participation in volunteering, the finding of this paper.
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