Abstract: Volunteer role identity has long been of interest to social scientists seeking to understand volunteer commitment and the psychological consequences of volunteering. The study reported here tests the theory that predicts that people identify more strongly with the volunteer role as compensation for the absence of other productive roles. Using a sample (n = 572) of Dutch volunteers over the age of 50, we find a strong association between age and volunteer role identity. For older volunteers, the volunteer role is a more important part of who they are. We find that retirement plays an important role in this. The retirement effect, in turn, is accounted for by the extra time retirees invest in the role, signaling a compensation strategy. We find a similar substitution effect for the unemployed/disabled, but not for widowhood. The study makes a contribution by situating the explanation of volunteer role identity within a life-course framework.
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