Social Usefulness Among Older Adults: Measure Development and Preliminary Validation

Gillespie, Alayna
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University of Guelph

For older adults, engaging in prosocial behaviours such as volunteering, caregiving, and informal helping, may contribute to self-perceptions of social usefulness. Limitations of past research on social usefulness include lack of a clear operationalization of the construct and lack of a psychometrically sound measure. To address these issues, study one was conducted to explore the construct of social usefulness through qualitative, semi-structured interviews with 20 older adults, with varying degrees of prosocial engagement. A thematic analysis illustrated various themes that were associated with perceptions of social usefulness that includes: (a) values and beliefs about social usefulness, (b) the personal need and motivation to be socially useful, (c) the amount of perceived personal social usefulness, (d) the perceived quality of personal social usefulness, and (e) the personal outcomes of social usefulness. These themes were used in study 2 as basis for item development for a scale of social usefulness. In study 2, social usefulness items were developed from the data extracts (i.e., quotes) and themes from study one. The items were administered to 408 older adults, along with preliminary validation measures. Exploratory factor analysis resulted in a three-factor solution that includes: (a) personal motivation to be socially useful, (b) psychological rewards of social usefulness, and (c) perceived network reliance on special social usefulness. The Older Adult Social Usefulness Scale demonstrated good construct validity, test-retest reliability, and internal consistency. The scale offers an empirically developed measure of social usefulness. The conceptual, theoretical, and practical implications of these findings, along with limitations and future research directions, are discussed.

social usefulness, measure development, older adults, prosocial engagement, volunteerism, informal helping