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The Gerontologist 46:318-324 (2006)
© 2006 The Gerontological Society of America

Civic Engagement and Older Adults: A Critical Perspective

Marty Martinson, MPH, MEd1 and Meredith Minkler, DrPH, MPH1

Correspondence: Address correspondence to Marty Martinson, MPH, Director, California Senior Leaders Project, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-7360. E-mail: martym{at}

The aging of the baby boom generation, together with research that links volunteerism and positive health outcomes in later life, has contributed to a burgeoning of interest in initiatives and programs promoting civic engagement among older adults. Although useful in potentially expanding role options in later life, this growing attention also underscores the importance of stepping back to critically examine frequently overlooked questions concerning the framing and potential consequences of the new emphasis on civic engagement. Following a brief review of semantics and definitional issues in this area, we use a critical gerontology framework, emphasizing both political economy analysis and perspectives from the humanities, to explore underlying questions such as these: What roles are older adults being encouraged to play in civic life? What meanings are implied by these roles? What political and economic forces underlie these roles? What types of civic engagement are left out of the conversation? Our goal is to encourage a broadening of the dialogue to include potentially problematic normative and political economic dimensions of civic engagement, particularly volunteerism, as they pertain to older adults.

Key Words: Civic engagement • Volunteerism • Health outcomes

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All GSA journals Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Copyright © 2006 by The Gerontological Society of America.