Alongside informal networks of friends and family, formal social groupings such as
voluntary associations are valued by older people as opportunities for engagement. In
Australia, one such grouping is the licensed social (or ‘registered’) club.
Approximately 20 per cent of all older Australians, and 80 per cent of older residents of
the state of New South Wales, actively participate in such clubs. Despite this, older
people’s registered club participation has received little scholarly attention.
This ethnographic study of one particular registered club aimed to discover the nature,
meaning and role of club participation for its older members. Social capital existing in
club-based networks emerged as a further investigative focus, and its mechanisms and
outcomes were examined. Participant observation and in-depth interviewing were the
main data collection methods used. Data analysis procedures included thematic
analysis (based loosely on grounded theory methodology), as well as the more contextsensitive
narrative analysis and key-words-in-context analysis.
The study found that club participation enabled older members to maintain valued
social networks, self-reliance and a sense of autonomy. Social networks were
characterised by social capital of the bonding type, being largely homogeneous with
respect to age, gender, (working) class and cultural background. Strong cohesive bonds
were characterised by intimacy and reciprocity, and possessed norms including equality
and the norm of tolerance and inclusiveness. These helped to minimise conflict and
build cohesiveness, while protecting older club-goers from increasing marginalisation
within the club. Peer grouping within this mainstream setting may have shielded the
older club-goers from stigma associated with participation in old-age specific groups.
The nature and scale of registered club participation amongst older Australians points to
their unique and important role. The findings of this research indicate that – for at least
this group of older men and women - club use is a major contributor to maintaining
social connectedness and a sense of self as self-reliant, autonomous and capable. In the
context of an ageing population, Australia’s registered clubs feature in the mosaic of
resources available to older people, and their communities, for the creation of social