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To participate, or not to participate - That is the question. (Non-)participation of older residents in rural communities

In recent years, rural residents’ participation within their local communities has attracted attention within scientific and political debates that focus on sustaining or improving the quality of life in villages. Retired older people feature centrally in these discussions, as they are perceived to have the time and life experience to participate in various local activities. This paper contributes to the existing literature through an examination of older villagers’ participation and non-participation within their communities in a strongly ageing rural area in Germany. Applying mixed methods and using survey data compiled for older residents, we identified six groups differentiated according to four types of participative practices and two main rationales for non-participation within villages in this region, thus introducing nuances and complexity to both sides of the participation/non- participation dichotomy. Our comparison of these six groups, considering their socio-economic characteristics and residential histories, revealed that women were underrepresented in positions of responsibility and that poor health and advanced age were primary reasons for non-participation. There were minor differences in the participation of village stayers and incomers, who accounted for a larger share of non-participants. As strategies to sustain or improve local quality of life should accommodate the interests of all residents, we advocate raising awareness regarding non-participant groups within research and policy contexts.



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