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Understanding Civic Engagement

older workers’ financial resources and the pursuit of paid and unpaid work

This investigation examined relationships between employees’ utilization of flexible work arrangements and their financial responsibilities, volunteering, and patterns of paid work. The investigators used the Panel Study on Income Dynamics, the Current Population Survey, and the Survey of Consumer Finances, to examine patterns of paid and unpaid work in relation to the aging process and concomitant issues of health and reductions in the financial need to support children and/or other dependents. Attention was paid to how this mix varies by the level of both income and wealth and the potential consequences of volunteering for employers.

key research questions

  • How is the relationship between paid and unpaid work moderated by financial resources (i.e., income and wealth)?
  • Within families, how stable is this relationship?
  • How is this relationship further affected by health of the householders, financial commitments to dependents, self-employment status, and other descriptive characteristics?
  • How do age and retirement statuses of individuals affect their allocation of time between paid and unpaid work?

selected findings

  • Among participants, the amount of time spent on unpaid volunteer activities increases with age from an average of 244 hours per year for heads under age 45 to 886 hours per year for heads age 75 or older.
  • Within married couples, the sum of hours spent on paid work, house work, and volunteer activities is, on average, approximately the same for the two spouses – about 2720 hours per year for each spouse. Men work more hours at paid work and women spend more time on housework. On average, older female spouses (age 65 or older) spend approximately 1180 hours per year on housework; older male spouses spent only 600 hours per year on housework, on average. Throughout the age range, however, female spouses spent about twice the amount of time on housework compared with their male spouses.
  • With respect to work in and around the home (i.e., housework), men and women both share this activity (when married), but as indicated above, women spend substantially more time in these activities than do their male spouses. This holds throughout the life cycle, even into retirement of both spouses.
  • On average, the amount of time spent on the sum of paid work, housework, and volunteer activities is about the same for not currently married men and women – about 2500 hours per year in total for the men and 2534 hours per year for the women. Not married men work for pay approximately 200 hours more than do not married women; but the men volunteer about 50 hours less and do about 200 hours less housework, on average, compared with women.
  • On average, time spent on unpaid voluntary work increases with both income and wealth and reaches its highest among households at the highest income and wealth levels.
  • On average, time spent on unpaid voluntary work is highly related to educational attainment, especially education beyond a bachelor’s degree; this finding holds even controlling for income and net worth.
  • Upon retirement, men spend somewhat more time on activities in and around the home; women spend substantially more time than men in these activities.
  • Wealth is correlated with health. A greater than average proportion of affluent households report being in good/excellent health. A smaller than average proportion of poor households report being in good/excellent health. The differences in health status between affluent and poor households increase with age.




For questions of information regarding the Understanding Civic Engagement project, or to schedule a conversation with any of the Center's team, please contact:

617-552-9195 |


the understanding civic engagement project team

John Havens, PhD
Senior Research Associate and Senior Associate Director
Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, Boston College
Tay K. McNamara, PhD
Co-Director of Research, Secondary Data Studies 
Sloan Center on Aging & Work, Boston College
Paul G. Schervish, PhD
Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, Boston College
Professor of Sociology
Boston College