Participation, roles and contributions of seniors
Authors: J. Fast, M. Charchuk, N. Keating, D. Dosman, and L. Moran
This report addresses one of seven key research themes in Social Development Canada’s new Knowledge Plan: advancement of knowledge about well-being and participation across the life course. This same theme was similarly identified as a priority by the International Association on Gerontology in its 2002 “Research Agenda for the 21st Century”. As a prelude to embarking on a research program on seniors’ participation, roles and contributions, it is first necessary to establish a benchmark as to the current state of knowledge and to identify knowledge and data gaps. This is the purpose of this report. Based on a review and analysis of extant literature, we understand that to age successfully- that is to enhance, preserve and/or restore quality of life-one needs to be physically, socially, intellectually, culturally and spiritually active. In sharp contrast to society’s preoccupation with population aging, the ‘dependency’ of seniors, and the economic viability of social programs, we conclude that seniors are in fact increasingly contributing to society in diverse and often hidden ways and their contributions do not end when they are no longer paid employees. Rather than seniors becoming dependent consumers of society’s resources, they are experiencing increased longevity that is filled with vitality, physical health and productivity. Yet there remain individual, attitudinal and institutional factors that inhibit meaningful participation/contributions. These include such personal factors as health and functional status, education and income. Attitudinal factors include ageism and gender bias. Institutional barriers include lack of formal supports for those providing care to others, lack of transportation, lack of learning and training opportunities, lack of choice and flexibility in both paid and volunteer work arrangements, disincentives in the retirement pension and tax systems. Key knowledge gaps revolve around better understanding (1) the concepts of meaningful contribution/participation and inclusive society; and (2) the mechanisms and processes that link participation in/contribution to the family, community, market and state domains and well-being in later life. Data that will move us toward filling these gaps include qualitative data on perceptions of contributions, participation and meaningfulness; and longitudinal, time series and/or retrospective data that will help reveal linkage mechanisms and processes.
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