Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jan E. Mutchler

Second Advisor

Jeffrey A. Burr

Third Advisor

Namkee G. Choi


Numerous studies link volunteering to positive mental and physical health for older adults, and recent studies have suggested that volunteering may be particularly beneficial for those who are widowed. This research examines the potential of volunteering to buffer participants from stress-related health declines associated with the death of a spouse.

Using the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), this research investigates the moderating role of volunteering on the self-rated health and depressive symptoms of recently widowed older adults. Consecutive waves of the HRS are used to identify respondents who experience the death of a spouse or who remain married, and those married or widowed respondents who participate in volunteer work over a two-year period. Waves 1998 through 2004 are used to construct three observation periods: 1998-2000, 2000-2002, and 2002-2004. A series of logistic and negative binomial regression analyses are used to estimate the direct effect and interactive effect of widowed status and volunteer status on self-rated health and depressive symptoms respectively.

Results indicate that while volunteering decreases the odds of being in fair or poor health and decreases the expected number of depressive symptoms for volunteers compared with nonvolunteers, volunteering does not buffer recent widows from declines in self-rated health or reduce the risk of more depressive symptoms. The results do not support the idea that volunteering serves as a source of social support for older adults when dealing with the stress of spousal loss. However, the findings do support the idea that participating in volunteering helps older adults remain socially integrated through a meaningful role in their community.