Project 096

Project Title:

Volunteering and mortality risk: a data linkage study


Dr Dermot O'Reilly, Dr Michael Rosato, Dr Finola Ferry, Professor Gerry Leavey and Dr John Moriarty


Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University



Project Summary:

Just over 200,000 (~14%) of the people enumerated in the 2011 Census answered ‘yes’ to the question … In the past year, have you helped with or carried out any voluntary work without pay?

There is now a substantial body of evidence demonstrating the short and long-term salutogenic effects of volunteering, and although a recent systematic review and meta-analysis by Jenkinson and colleagues (2013) suggests that people who volunteer have a lower risk of mortality (HR 0.78: 95%CIs 0.66, 0.90) we think the research evidence upon which this conclusion is based has some significant problems (which are acknowledged in the review). Most of the studies were relatively small and were based in the US where there is a strong history of volunteering and a wide disparity in health. Not all of the studies showed a protective effect of volunteering: in many, there was no relationship between amount of volunteering and risk, while in others, the protective effects were only apparent for those with high degrees of religiosity. But perhaps the greatest difficulty is the inability to adjust for other potential confounders.

We aim to use the Northern Ireland Mortality Study to describe the characteristics of volunteers in society and estimate their short-term mortality risk while adjusting for potential health selection effects. In particular we will be interested to assess the effects of volunteering on suicide risk, which has never been achieved before.

Publications to date:

O'Reilly, D., Rosato, M., Moriarty, J. & Leavey, G. (2017) Volunteering and mortality risk: a partner-controlled quasi-experimental design


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