Results from a recent survey of nearly 5,000 University of California retirees provide a snapshot of mostly active, engaged individuals who, during the past three-and-a-half years, have put their talents and time to good use by volunteering; teaching, writing and consulting; and starting new jobs and businesses, among many other endeavors.

The new survey report, “UC Retirees: Generous Talents, Enduring Community,” focuses on the lives of 4,980 retired UC staff and non-senate academics who filled out an online questionnaire last October.

While many commented that their volunteer activities have been curtailed by the pandemic, they also said they plan on resuming and even increasing their volunteer service when it’s safe to do so.

“Despite 2020 being the unusual year that it was, it appears that retirees continued to thrive, remain active and, in many cases, were more active than respondents in 2016,” said Susan Abeles, vice chair and chair-elect of the Council of University of California Retiree Associations, known as CUCRA, which sponsored the survey.

CUCRA, a systemwide consortium of 13 organizations representing retirees from nine campuses, three national laboratories and the UC Office of the President, launched the survey for the first time five years ago.

In all, about 22,000 retirees who had previously provided their email addresses to a retiree association or center were asked about their activities, concerns and interests during the period January 2017 through September 2020. Most retired faculty were not included in this survey because they participate in a different survey, sponsored by the Council of University of California Emeriti Associations.

“We want to be clear that this is not a true random survey,” explained John Meyer, CUCRA chair. “The responses measured are from those who chose to respond — and those individuals likely maintain an interest in serving their campus.”

Still, Meyer said, “We believe it’s valuable for our organization to assess and report on the level of engagement retirees maintain with their campuses and their communities. This can then be shared with university and campus leaders to underscore the ongoing value of retirees.”

One of the most common ways respondents are spending their retirement is volunteering; 70% reported volunteering, mostly for community and civic organizations, faith-based groups and political causes.

And 25% of respondents said they have volunteered for UC, indicative of the enduring connection many feel to their home campuses, medical centers and labs and their strong support for the university’s mission. Retirees for UC have served as volunteer mentors, teachers, advisers, fundraisers and participants in many campus programs and activities.

“I am very impressed by the breadth of the activities that retirees report being engaged in,” said Abeles, who retired from UCLA in 2010 as associate vice chancellor, corporate financial services/controller. “The 2016 survey results demonstrated that retirees may have retired from their careers at UC, but they have not retired from being active supporters of our community.”

In the 2020 survey, both the percentage of retirees who volunteer in their communities as well as of those who volunteer for UC increased, compared to 2016.

Thousands of retirees have also donated more than $60 million to UC campuses over the past four fiscal years, according to data provided by retiree associations, retirement centers and development offices.

“The financial contributions retirees have made to their former campuses, coupled with the extent to which retirees volunteer at UC, are all indications of the degree to which these retirees feel a continued connection to UC and support the mission of the university,” Abeles said.

“I believe the project underscores that if individuals have a fondness for their campus and communities, they will freely share their time, talents and treasure,” said Meyer, who retired from UC Davis in 2014 as its administrative vice chancellor.

A majority of respondents also reported having an active lifestyle: 60% were engaged in staying physically fit; 58% had traveled; 50% gardened; 47% spent time outdoors and in nature; and 32% enjoyed the performing arts.

The survey also showed that more than half of the respondents, 53%, have served as caregivers.

The high number was perhaps due in part to the upheaval caused by pandemic, survey organizers said. Some respondents noted that they were helping out their children who had become unemployed or assisting with the care of grandchildren learning at home while their parents worked.

“Limitations on options for getting assistance outside the home may have made it necessary for retirees to step into roles as caregivers,” Abeles suggested.

Here are other highlights from the survey:

  • 31% reported that they have worked in paid positions since their retirement or that they were self-employed.
  • While 42% said they provided professional services on a pay or pro bono basis, 21% said they have been authors, especially of non-fiction such as histories, science writing and journalistic articles.
  • Topping a list of concerns were retiree benefits and the need to be kept informed of pending changes to benefits and policies. Respondents also rated volunteering for UC and lifelong-learning opportunities high on their list of interests.
  • In contrast to other retirees who have left California, a large majority of the respondents, 78%, live within 30 miles of a UC location. Only 9% of those responding live outside California.
  • Approximately 71% of those who filled out the survey worked for UC for 20 years or more. 

The report will be shared with university leaders, who support maintaining the strong relationship between retirees and UC, Meyer said.

“One of our responsibilities is to share with university and campus leaders any barriers that may exist to such a positive relationship,” he said. “I have found university leaders very interested in ensuring this relationship thrives.”