Productive Engagement of Older Adults

Nancy Morrow-Howell

in Social Work

ISBN: 9780195389678
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
Productive Engagement of Older Adults


There is extraordinary growth in the number and proportion of older adults in almost every country around the world. Low birthrates and low death rates are transforming the age structure of societies. The statistics are sobering, and societies face huge challenges in providing economic security and health care to burgeoning older populations. It is true that there are growing numbers of older adults who are physically and cognitively frail from the chronic conditions prevalent in late life. However, a larger number of older adults are fit and functioning, with as many as twenty years of life after formal retirement. And it is likely that the average age for the onset of dependency and death will continue to rise. By and large, the discussion of population aging has focused on “age drain”—the burden of older adults on the economy and the health-care system. We do not deny that chronic conditions and resulting disabilities eventually curtail human capacity for certain activities and that many older adults need care and supportive services. However, the productive aging perspective suggests that health and social services do not sufficiently address the issues of an aging society. The “age drain” perspective ignores the growing human capital among the older population, especially as education levels increase. This capacity can be engaged in activities that make economic and social contributions to society, including working, volunteering, caregiving, and grandparenting. This engagement can lead to multiple positive ends: offsetting the financial strains of an aging population, contributing to the betterment of society, and maintaining the health of older adults (Morrow-Howell, et al. 2001, cited under Introductory Works). This bibliography defines productive engagement in later life as the participation of older adults in activities that produce goods and services, whether paid for or not. This includes working, volunteering, and caregiving. Other scholars include educational and training activities. Indeed, there is not a set definition, but the term “productive engagement” represents the shift from the perspective that sees older adults as burdens to one that views them as contributors. As seen in the literature presented here, scholars have sought to understand current levels of productive engagement, factors associated with this engagement, programs and policies that promote engagement, and the outcomes of engagement to the individual, families, communities, and society. This bibliography reflects a broad scope of critical issues associated with productive engagement in later life. Its author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Yi Wang, MSW candidate at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis in researching and creating this bibliography.

Article.  7505 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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