Research and impact | By Hamish Armstrong

What is the impact of retirement on ‘prosocial’ behaviour?

New research from City finds retirement increases our sense of altruism.


Volunteer work in the UK represents around 3.7 per cent of total labour supply.


Studies show that it has the second highest value for unpaid work after childcare, with Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showing 65 to 74 year-olds as the biggest contributors to this.


So what drives this increasing appetite to volunteer later in life? Are older people more altruistic or ‘prosocial’ – as regularly portrayed in popular culture – or do they simply have more time to spend on such activities?

Measuring the reasons behind volunteering


A study by Dr Sotiris Georganas, Reader in Behavioural Economics, Ioannis Laliotis, Honorary Lecturer, and Alina Velias, former PhD student from the Department of Economics in the School of Policy and Global Affairs aimed to uncover how altruistic the older generation is through the means of measuring volunteering input and the reasons behind it.


Prosocial behaviour is often described as positive and well-meaning, with intent to promote social acceptance and friendship. Because prosocial behaviour encapsulates generosity, it can be effectively measured through participation in both formal (such as working for a charity or food bank) and informal (helping neighbours with shopping or meals) volunteering work.

Drawing on data from across Europe


By studying data from the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC), coupled with findings from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), of 255 participants from across 22 countries aged 38 to 84 years old, the researchers found strong evidence to suggest that retirement increases the probability of engaging in a form of volunteering compared to latter years of working life.


Interestingly, this desire to volunteer was more pronounced in women, those with better self-reported health and physical capability, and those with a university education. A close connection with volunteering through either past work or volunteering partners also increased this likelihood.


Further study also indicates that a preference for volunteering in elderly people comes from the desire to be prosocial rather than just having more time on their hands.

Findings which influence policy


With an ageing population putting the squeeze on pension provisions, and life expectancy rising, findings from the research could have major implications on government policy. Knowing how retirees choose to allocate their time post-retirement – and that the decision not to volunteer appears to be driven by a lack of interest rather than time availability – could enable policymakers to initiate schemes which encourage older people to participate in such projects and raise awareness of them.


This in turn could be key to plugging seismic skills gaps, increasing productivity, improving wellbeing and maximising economic efficiency – at the same time as easing the newly retired population’s transition from working life into retirement with a renewed sense of purpose and routine.


Read more: ‘The best is yet to come: The impact of retirement on prosocial behaviour’ is published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.