Hundreds of thousands of boomers are deciding to volunteer abroad. An increase of more than 60 percent in less than a decade, a recent study found. While Covid-19 issues will skew the statistics this year, the trend seems likely to stay.
Adults aged 55 and older are increasingly interested in performing volunteer work in other countries, and host communities are clamouring to recruit them. This is especially true if the boomers have professional and specialised skills that may not be readily available in local labour markets. This is according to researchers Benjamin J. Lough and Xiaoling Xiang, who authored the study.
Rising Boomer Volunteer Population
Of the millions of people who volunteer overseas annually, the greatest percentage are teens and young adults ages 15-24. However, participation by older adults has risen steadily in recent years, driven in part by the growth in the over-55 population.
Accordingly, charity organisations that traditionally catered to younger people have ramped up efforts to recruit greater numbers of late-life volunteers.
“Growing numbers of adults age 65-plus are going abroad to volunteer, partly because boomers have more free time with retirement and are interested in active engagement,” said Lough, a professor of social work. “They spent their lives working and raising children, and now that they’re retired, they want leisure, but they also want to give back while satisfying their thirst for adventure.”
Preference for Experience
Host countries consistently express a preference for older workers who have greater experience and skills to offer, Lough said. Nearly half of the older adults in the study who volunteered abroad had master’s, doctoral or professional degrees. “As volunteers age, they have more professional skills to contribute, and that’s what hosting organisations want. Hosting organisations and communities are less interested in hosting young people who have fewer skills. They want competent people who can contribute something really useful, who have lifelong experience doing things. There is a consistent demand for volunteers who have meaningful skills and can stay for longer periods of time.”
The average duration of older volunteers’ stay abroad was about 13 weeks. This is the same amount of time as the youngest volunteers, who were ages 15-24.
International service organisations could better meet communities’ needs for skilled workers by addressing some of the barriers that prevent older people from volunteering abroad. These barriers are things like concerns about access to health care services and financial constraints, the researchers said.
Older adults with higher incomes were more likely to serve abroad, the researchers found. Nearly a quarter of older international volunteers in the study reported annual household incomes of $150,000 or more.
Offering stipends or help with travel expenses could boost participation of older adults with lower incomes, the researchers suggested.
Rather volunteer closer to home? Check out this website that gives you all the details on volunteering on the Gold Coast.
If you enjoy working abroad and travelling the world, check out this article on how you can make travelling into a retirement lifestyle!
Editor for Silver Magazine Gold Coast