‘Lots of little kindnesses’: valuing the role of older Australians as informal volunteers in the community Academic Article uri icon


  • This paper describes the ways in which older people contribute to their communities and families as informal volunteers. It challenges current ways of thinking that assign an economic value to the productive activities undertaken by older people. Using qualitative data from a study of older people resident in Queensland, Australia, the paper explores the ways that older people contribute to their families and to the community and the outcomes associated with these activities. Two specific themes emerged from the data: first, the ways in which older people contribute to strong inter-generational relations, and second, how they provide essential mutual support that permits many older people to remain living in the community. These contributions, while often small in themselves, are in aggregate critical both to family functioning and to the maintenance of sustainable and healthy communities. Many are reciprocal interactions that add value to the lives of individuals and offer positive social roles in later life, and they may be particularly important for those from minority cultural backgrounds or at risk of social isolation. The findings suggest that older people are integral to community and civil society and, therefore, that social policy should respond to the ageing of Australia's population and recognise the positive contributions of older people, rather than emphasising the costs of demographic change.

publication date

  • September 2005