Civic Engagement in an Older America

Welcome to the "Civic Engagement in an Older America" project webpage. Here you will learn about efforts to advance research, practice, and policy that support older adults as a civic resource. This page contains the following information:

(1) An overview of the "Civic Engagement in an Older America" project

(2) A link to the "Civic Engagement Resources" webpage

(3) Current project news

(4) Civic Engagement E-Newsletter (the project's electronic newsletter)

For more information on the project, please contact its director, Dr. Greg O'Neill, at 202-408-3375 ext.123 or


What is the project?

The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) received a five-year grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies in 2004 to advance research that addresses civic engagement and aging. The primary purpose of the “Civic Engagement in an Older America” project is to produce and promote research that will contribute to the development of more effective social institutions, programs, and policies that will increase older adults’ civic participation.

Already, the project has conducted a series of forums and focus groups on civic engagement that informed the proceedings of the 2005 White House Conference on Aging. It also initiated a prestigious paper award at GSA’s 2005 Annual Meeting, as well as a special symposium on civic engagement.

Currently, the project is focused on creating a series of special publications—including two issues of Public Policy & Aging Report and a special edition of The Gerontologist. The project also organized a symposium on "civic engagement and the gerontological imagination" for GSA’s November 2006 meeting. Ultimately, these efforts will culminate in a Congressional briefing based on the findings of the project.

The project is funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies. To learn more about The Atlantic Philanthropies, as well as the other projects on older adults' civic engagement that The Atlantic Philanthropies support, click here.

Why is the project important?

On January 1, 2006, the first baby boomers turned 60 years of age. They are the leading edge of the largest, healthiest, and best-educated population of American adults ever. With many boomers on the verge of retirement who are looking for ways to maintain meaningful work throughout their later years, and with the ongoing need for groups and individuals to address important social problems and strengthen community life, a tremendous opportunity presents itself to contemporary society: To more fully engage older adults as a civic resource for addressing community needs through both paid and unpaid work.

While many adults express interest in civic engagement activities in later life—such as formal volunteering or political organizing—and while many organizations express interest in utilizing older adults as a civic resource, a solid infrastructure for supporting older adults’ community work has only begun to take form. Agency leaders, researchers, policymakers, and citizens with a vested interest in developing and implementing strategies to promote civic engagement among older adults face many important questions, such as, “What kind of programs and policies will improve the ability of older adults to participate in civic life?” and “How will women's labor force participation affect civic engagement?”

The gerontological research community plays a valuable role in addressing these questions, by informing practioners' and policymakers' efforts to create supports for older adults as a civic resource.

Who is leading the project?

The project is led by Dr. Greg O’Neill, Director of the National Academy on an Aging Society—the public policy division of GSA. O’Neill has formulated an eight-person Expert Work Group, whose members include:

- Scott Bass: Distinguished Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and Department of Public Policy, Dean of the Graduate School and Vice Provost for Research & Planning, University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

- Laura Carstensen: Professor of Psychology, Director of the Life-Span Development Laboratory, Stanford University

- Marc Freedman: Founder and President of Civic Ventures and author of the award winning book, Prime Time: How Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize and Transform America

- William A. Galston: Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution

- Phyllis Moen: McKnight Presidential Chair in Sociology at the University of Minnesota, and author of It's About Time: Couples and Careers

- Rick Moody: Director of the Institute for Human Values in Aging and Head of Academic Affairs at AARP

- Nancy Morrow-Howell: Ralph and Muriel Pumphrey Professor of Social Work, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis

- Joseph Quinn: Professor of Economics and Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Boston College.


Project Resources

Did you know that...

....federal legislation to support older adults' civic engagement was recently passed by Congress?
...there are five other major initiatives on older adults' civic engagement in the U.S. alone?
...major agencies have released dozens of reports regarding stakeholders' views on civic engagement in an older America?
...there are regularly updated webpages with links to news media content on civic engagement in later life?

Check out the National Academy on an Aging Society's Civic Engagement Resources page to learn more.


Project News

Delegates at the 2005 White House Conference on Aging identified older adults' volunteering and civic engagements as a top priority. Click here to learn more about the White House Conference on Aging, proceedings related to civic engagement, and how GSA's civic engagement project served to influence the conference.

The Gerontological Society of America's 2006 Annual Scientific Meeting in Dallas, Texas included sessions about civic engagement in later life. Click here for a guide to these sessions.

On May 8, 2007, GSA convened a workshop on "Measures of Social Activity and Civic Engagement among Older Americans." Click here to view PowerPoint presentations.


Civic Engagement E-Newsletter

The Civic Engagement E-Newsletter informs readers about efforts to advance research, programs, and policy that support older adults as a civic resource.

The bimonthly e-newsletter highlights key developments related to civic engagement in later life from a wide variety of sources, including articles and reports circulating in the media, academy, think tanks, private sector, government, and nonprofit organizations.

To sign up for the e-newsletter, please send an email to with "Subscribe" in the subject line.

An archive of issues can be found here.