Exploring Korean older adults' perceptions of and decisions to volunteer
Volunteerism has long been seen as a positive civic engagement activity for people of all ages in the Western countries, but has only relatively recently taken on a similar importance in Korea. Given that the older population has dramatically increased in Korea and is expected to grow even more, from 11% in 2010 to 38% by 2050, senior volunteerism is being promoted by the Korean government (through a series of policies) as a promising way to engage older adults in the community and society. Little is known however about older adults' perceptions of the value of volunteer experiences and how they decide whether or not to volunteer. The purpose of this phenomenological qualitative study was to explore the lived experiences of Korean older adults, ages 60 and older, about the phenomenon of volunteerism. Data were collected from thirty older adults, ages 60 and older, (Volunteers N=20; Non-volunteers N=10), recruited from one senior welfare center in Seoul and one community welfare center in Gwangmyeong City. This study consisted of semi-structured in-depth interviews. Each interview was audio-taped and transcribed in Korean. The transcribed interviews were examined and the meaning units and the essence of the experiences were extracted using the data analysis methodology developed by Moustakas (1994). From these, common themes that emerged were examined for possible theory development. Two exploratory decision-making models were proposed from the data/common themes. The models illuminate the perceptions of volunteerism among these Korean older adults as influenced by background contextual factors and a range of facilitators/barriers, including recruitment and supportive strategies that seem to be linked to the decision to volunteer or to continue to volunteer. The in-depth understanding of volunteer motivations and experiences gained from this study provided insight into social work and gerontology practice strategies, such as creation of collaborative agency networks to promote volunteerism, that can be developed to address the needs of both older adults and the larger society. These efforts can contribute to the recognition of older adults not just as a growing segment of the population in need of care, but as healthy, active, and productive contributors in society.