Empirical evidence from single-country studies on the relation between volunteering and wages is mixed. This paper uses an international framework to show that the relation between activities in voluntary associations and wages differs depending on country-specific factors. In particular, we argue that participating in voluntary associations serves as a signal in collectivistic (as opposed to individualistic) countries and is therefore positively related to wages. In countries with a low (as opposed to high) formal educational level, the human capital effects of participating are strong; therefore, activities in voluntary associations correlate with wages positively. Using data on 9295 individuals from 17 countries, we confirm that the relation between participating in voluntary associations and wage is positive but declines (1) as individualism increases and (2) as formal educational levels increase. In countries with high values for individualism or very high formal education levels, the relation between activities in voluntary associations and wage becomes negative.
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For a literature review on the relationship between volunteering and wages, see Qvist and Munk (2018).
Of course, one could argue that the signaling channel dominates the human capital channel. If the correlation is positive in high formal education countries, then the signaling channel is considered more important than the human capital channel. We discuss this issue in “Discussion” section in detail. Note that this prediction is not compatible with the consumption model, which predicts a negative relation between activities in voluntary associations and wages regardless of the formal educational level.
Austria, Bulgaria, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, the Slovak Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, and the USA.
Using separate estimations for different scales and for different taxation would not be as appropriate if the sample included only a small number of countries.
The original question for the USA reads as “Now, some questions about your social involvement. In the last 12 months, how often have you participated in the activities of one of the following associations or groups? a. A sports association b. A cultural association c. A church or other religious organization d. A community service or civic association/group e. A political party or organization.”
Descriptive statistics also suggest the consumption character of sport activities: 12% of all employees participate weekly in sport clubs. Compared to participation in other types of associations (e.g., only 3% of employees participate in civic associations on a weekly basis), this high number suggests that participants in sport clubs attend training sessions because they enjoy this kind of leisure activity. Only a few participants likely undertake activities that improve employment-relevant skills, supporting the consumption character of sports.
We are particularly grateful to an anonymous referee for directing us to this aspect of the discussion.
Note that we do not empirically test the consumption versus investment motive.
We assume that the negative relation between activities in voluntary associations and wages predicted by the consumption model does not differ across educational levels.
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An earlier version of this manuscript was presented at the workshop “Leisure Time Activities, Education, and Economic Performance” at the University of Tubingen. The authors are grateful to the participants of this workshop for their very valuable comments. We are also grateful to two anonymous reviewers and the editor of this journal for their extremely helpful and valuable comments and suggestions, which have greatly improved the quality of the manuscript.
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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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Duerrenberger, N., Warning, S. Where Activity Without Pay Pays Off: International Evidence on Participating in Voluntary Associations and Wages. Voluntas 30, 222–243 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-018-00063-7
- Activity in voluntary associations
- International comparison
- Human capital