A cross-National Comparison of the Effect of Work Related Factors on Membership in Voluntary Associations Sarah Busse Spencer

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Spencer 2014

A Cross-National Comparison of the Effect of Work Related Factors
on Membership in Voluntary Associations

Sarah Busse Spencer

Department of Sociology, Higher School of Economics, Moscow

November 2014 (6419 symbols)


How do working conditions affect whether individuals participate in voluntary associations? How does this vary across countries? This article uses the World Values Survey, Wave 6 (2010-2014), employing binary logistic regression and OLS regression to examine the effect of these work-related factors on membership in a range of civic organizations across countries.

Extensive research has contributed to a demographic portrait of those who volunteer, or contribute without pay to social causes (Wilson 2000). Those who have higher education are more likely to volunteer (Wilson 2000). Some research has suggested that those who work in the public sector are more likely to participate in voluntary organizations (Wilson and Musick 1997), while other research indicates that those with paid employment in the non-profit sector are more likely to report higher rates of volunteering (Rotolo and Wilson 2006). This article contributes to the discussion of which people are most likely to participate in civic organizations by examining three factors related to work: 1) full-time employment vs part-time or no employment; 2) whether a person is a supervisor at work and 3) the level of autonomy, creativity and non-manual tasks at work.

A long stream of research has demonstrated other positive benefits of employment beyond financial remuneration; including health, sense of well-being, happiness, and higher life satisfaction. Research has illustrated that employment (vs unemployment) has a positive impact on respondents’ health (Olsen and Dahl 2007). Although national unemployment levels do not seem to affect individual subjective well-being, personal unemployment reduces personal life satisfaction and has a moderate effect on personal happiness in Finland (Bockerman and Ilmakunnas 2006). In Lithuania, research has also illustrated a connection between employment status and subjective well being (Degutis and Urbonavicius 2013). Employment status and workplace organization also affect the size and shape of respondents’ social networks and social capital (Oksanen, Kawachi, Kouvonen, Takao, Suzuki, Virtanen, Pentti, Kivimäki, and Vahtera 2013). Lowest rates of participation are among those not in the labor force at all, but on average, part-time workers volunteer more than full-time workers because of having greater time to do so. (Wilson 2000). Therefore, this research tests the following hypothesis:

  1. Respondents who are employed full time as opposed to part-time or out of the labor force are more likely to be a member of a voluntary association, and have a higher participation rate, controlling for other factors.

Drawing on Mills’ discussion of a “power elite” participating in various spheres of life (Mills 1956) it makes sense to suggest that persons with higher social status would be more likely to join civic associations. Indeed, research has suggested illustrated that those of higher social class are more active in membership of civic organizations (Dahl 1961; Olsen 1973). More recent research has also echoed this stratification of membership: privileged Americans are more likely to join voluntary organizations, but also more likely to gain benefits from their membership than are those from lower social classes (Miller 2010). Human capital (education) and measures of social class (occupational status and income) play a large role in understanding the range of volunteer activities and the hours spent volunteering (Wilson and Musick 1998). Because social status at work is at least related to whether one is a supervisor or not, this article test the second hypothesis:

  1. Respondents who supervise others at work, compared to those who do not, are more likely to be a member of a voluntary association, and have a higher participation rate, controlling for other factors.

It is to be expected that respondents with higher education and higher social class will have jobs with higher autonomy, creativity, and lower proportion of manual tasks. However, it is worth examining these latter factors independently because there may be variation across social classes in the self-reported assessment of the nature of work which a respondent experiences. Wilson has argued that occupational self-direction increases volunteering, especially among the better educated (Wilson and Musick 1997). Based on Florida’s argument about the role of the “creative class” in urban settings (Florida 2003), it would be expected that those who have more “creative” jobs would be more likely to be engaged in at least certain kinds of civic organizations. Therefore, this article tests the third hypothesis that:

  1. Respondents who have higher autonomy, creativity and non-manual tasks at work are more likely to be a member of a voluntary association, and have a higher participation rate, controlling for other factors.

In conclusion, this article relies on data from the World Values Survey Wave 6 to address the question of the effect which being employed vs unemployed, being a supervisor vs not a supervisor, and having creativity, autonomy or nonmanual tasks at work has on membership in voluntary associations. Countries are compared and contrasted in regard to how these work-related factors shape the likelihood of membership in civic organizations.


Bockerman, Petri and Pekka Ilmakunnas. 2006. "Elusive Effects of Unemployment on Happiness." Social Indicators Research 79:159-169.

Dahl, Robert A. 1961. Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Degutis, Mindaugas and Sigitas Urbonavicius. 2013. "Determinants of Subjective Wellbeing in Lithuania." Subjektyvios gerovės veiksniai Lietuvoje. 24:111-118.

Florida, R. 2003. "Cities and the Creative Class." City & Community 2:3-19.

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Mills, C. Wright. 1956. The Power Elite. London: Oxford University Press.

Oksanen, Tuula, Ichiro Kawachi, Anne Kouvonen, Soshi Takao, Etsuji Suzuki, Marianna Virtanen, Jaana Pentti, Mika Kivimäki, and Jussi Vahtera. 2013. "Workplace Determinants of Social Capital: Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Evidence from a Finnish Cohort Study." PLoS ONE 8:1-7.

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Olsen, Marvin E. 1973. "A Model of Political Participation Stratification." Journal of Political & Military Sociology 1:183-200.

Rotolo, Thomas and John Wilson. 2006. "Employment Sector and Volunteering: The Contribution of Nonprofit and Public Sector Workers to the Volunteer Labor Force." Sociological Quarterly 47:21-40.

Wilson, John. 2000. "Volunteering." Annual Review of Sociology 26:215-240.

Wilson, John and Marc Musick. 1998. "The Contribution of Social Resources to Volunteering." Social Science Quarterly 79:799-814.

Wilson, John and Marc A. Musick. 1997. "Work and Volunteering: The Long Arm of the Job." Social Forces 76:251-272.

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