Active participation of the elderly is a recognized response to address the societal and individual challenges of rising life expectancy such as releasing the pressure of age-related public spending, reducing social isolation and improving well-being. How much time older people devote to active participation and whether their time allocation is associated with well-being remains under-investigated. Using time-use data from Belgium (n = 1384) and the USA (n = 2133), we investigate the time older people (65–80 years) spent on active participation and examine how this relates to their life satisfaction as an indicator of well-being. The countries vary in the amount of time spent on paid employment and volunteering, but not on informal help. Belgian older people spend much less time on paid employment than their American counterparts. This implies more are available to volunteer and provide informal help. Yet participation rates in these activities are higher in the USA. Multivariate analyses show that associations between active participation and life satisfaction vary between both countries and within both countries by gender and age. Overall, positive associations between paid work and volunteering and life satisfaction suggest that governments would do well to mobilize elderly into active participation, especially in Belgium. Negative associations between informal help and life satisfaction suggest governments should provide greater support for informal carers.