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Keywords:

  • Citizenship;
  • Volunteering;
  • Active ageing;
  • Qualitative research

Abstract

Many voluntary organizations depend greatly on the unpaid services of older volunteers, a significant number of whom are women. At the same time, shifts in welfare policy have been towards emphasizing individual economic autonomy and self-provisioning, often to the detriment of older, more vulnerable members of society. Using data from an organization working for and with older people in the North-East of England and through in-depth qualitative interviews, our study found that volunteering is an expression of citizenship for older people. In our analysis, we identify two strands in the meanings of citizenship for older people: volunteering as leisure and work, and volunteering as care and civic consciousness. These correspond with liberal conceptualizations of citizenship and republican models of citizenship. Data from our in-depth interviews demonstrate a strong commitment to society and fellow citizens among older people that counterbalances individualistic and instrumental reasons for volunteering promoted by the state and market. Our findings suggest that government views of volunteering as a route to paid work, as a panacea for society and therefore needing to be more ‘work-like’, are discordant with the perspectives of older volunteers. Rather than the neo-liberal views of the ‘citizen-worker’ or ‘citizen-consumer’, citizenship that is based on the ‘common good’ and feminist perspectives of ‘caring citizenship’ are arguably more beneficial to society. Finally, we describe the pressures and constraints facing older people that could discourage formal volunteering in the future.