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Value of Unpaid Activities by Older Americans Tops $160 Billion Per Year

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Document date: September 27, 2005
Released online: September 27, 2005

Brief #4 from the series Perspectives on Productive Aging

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).


Many older Americans continue to make valuable contributions to society long after they withdraw from the labor force. Older people often spend time caring for grandchildren and frail family members. Many volunteer their time to church groups, charitable organizations, and cultural institutions. Many also volunteer informally, helping friends and neighbors in need. Because older adults are not generally paid for their help, these services are often overlooked in the ongoing debate about Social Security, possible changes to the retirement age, and the proper role of older Americans in an aging society.

This brief measures the value of unpaid activities by Americans age 55 and older in 2002. The study considers formal volunteer activities (defined as volunteering for an organization), informal volunteering (helping others who do not live in the same household), and caring for family members (parents and in-laws, spouses, and grandchildren). Estimates depend on both the number of hours spent in each activity and the value of each contributed hour. We measure older Americans' use of time, as in earlier briefs in this series (Johnson and Schaner 2005; Zedlewski and Schaner 2005), with data from the 2002 Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a large, nationally representative survey of older Americans. Because the value of each contributed hour is impossible to measure with certainty, we measure contributions under low-, moderate-, and high-cost assumptions. Our discussion, however, focuses on the moderate-cost scenario, which represents our best estimate of the value of unpaid activities. A methodological appendix provides details about our approach.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).



Topics/Tags: | Health/Healthcare | Retirement and Older Americans


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