, Volume 97, Issue 2, pp 157-176
Date: 30 May 2009

Happy to Help? Exploring the Factors Associated with Variations in Rates of Volunteering Across Europe

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Abstract

The frequency of formal volunteering varies widely across European countries, and rates of formal volunteering are especially low among Eastern European countries. Why are there such large differences in volunteering rates when it is known that volunteering is beneficial for well-being? Using data from the latest round of the European Social Survey, we test three hypotheses to explain these cross-national differences in volunteering. We ask whether people in countries with low frequencies of volunteering spend more of their time on informal volunteering activities; whether they differ on socio-demographic variables which are known to be linked to volunteering rates; or whether they show less well-being benefit from formal volunteering. Contrary to the first hypothesis, we find a positive correlation between formal and informal volunteering. We further conclude that national differences in rates of volunteering cannot be fully explained by differences in the social, psychological or cultural factors associated with volunteering nor the outcome of volunteering. It is likely that contextual factors, such as a country’s historical background or institutions, determine levels of volunteering to a large extent.