Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Where Activity Without Pay Pays Off: International Evidence on Participating in Voluntary Associations and Wages


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    For a literature review on the relationship between volunteering and wages, see Qvist and Munk (2018).

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    Austria, Bulgaria, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, the Slovak Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, and the USA.

  4. 4.

    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.

  5. 5.

    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.”

  6. 6.

    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.

  7. 7.

    We are particularly grateful to an anonymous referee for directing us to this aspect of the discussion.

  8. 8.

    Note that we do not empirically test the consumption versus investment motive.

  9. 9.

    We assume that the negative relation between activities in voluntary associations and wages predicted by the consumption model does not differ across educational levels.


  1. Aguilera, M. B. (2005). The impact of social capital on the earnings of Puerto Rican migrants. The Sociological Quarterly, 46(4), 569–592.

  2. Aguinis, H., Gottfredson, R. K., & Culpepper, S. A. (2013). Best-practice recommendations for estimating cross-level interaction effects using multi-level modeling. Journal of Management, 39(6), 1490–1528.

  3. Bauer, T. K., Bredtmann, J., & Schmidt, C. M. (2013). Time vs. money—The supply of voluntary labor and charitable donations across Europe. European Journal of Political Economy, 32, 80–94.

  4. Becker, G. S. (1962). Investment in human capital: A theoretical analysis. Journal of Political Economy, 70(5), 9–49.

  5. Bekkers, R. (2005). Participation in voluntary associations: Relations with resources, personality, and political values. Political Psychology, 26(3), 439–454.

  6. Bell, D. N., & Hart, R. A. (2003). Wages, hours, and overtime premia: Evidence from the British labor market. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 56(3), 470–480.

  7. Bils, M., & Klenow, P. J. (2000). Does schooling cause growth? American Economic Review, 90(5), 1160–1183.

  8. Birnkraut, G. (2007). Volunteering in cultural institutions: A comparison between the United States and Germany. The International Journal of Volunteer Administration, 24(3), 58–65.

  9. Blanchflower, D. G., & Bryson, A. (2010). The wage impact of trade unions in the UK public and private sectors. Economica, 77(305), 92–109.

  10. Borjas, G. J. (1985). Assimilation, changes in cohort quality, and the earnings of immigrants. Journal of Labor Economics, 3(4), 463–489.

  11. Boxman, E. A., De Graaf, P. M., & Flap, H. D. (1991). The impact of social and human capital on the income attainment of Dutch managers. Social Networks, 13(1), 51–73.

  12. Bruno, B., & Fiorillo, D. (2016). Voluntary work and wages. Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, 87(2), 175–202.

  13. Bryan, M. L., & Jenkins, S. P. (2016). Multilevel modeling of country effects: A cautionary tale. European Sociological Review, 32(1), 3–22.

  14. Budig, M. J., & England, P. (2001). The wage penalty for motherhood. American Sociological Review, 66(2), 204–225.

  15. Budig, M. J., & Hodges, M. J. (2010). Differences in disadvantage: Variation in the motherhood penalty across white women’s earnings distribution. American Sociological Review, 75(5), 705–728.

  16. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2017). Number of jobs, labor market experience, and earnings growth among Americans at 50: Results from a longitudinal survey. www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/nlsoy.pdf. Last Accessed 27 Aug 2018.

  17. Cabane, C. (2011). Do sporty people have access to higher job quality? In P. Rodríguez, S. Késenne, & B. R. Humphreys (Eds.), The economics of sport, health and happiness: The promotion of well-being through sporting activities (pp. 129–150). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

  18. Caliendo, M., Schmidl, R., & Uhlendorff, A. (2011). Social networks, job search methods and reservation wages: Evidence for Germany. International Journal of Manpower, 32(7), 796–824.

  19. Carpenter, J., & Myers, C. K. (2010). Why volunteer? Evidence on the role of altruism, image, and incentives. Journal of Public Economics, 94(11), 911–920.

  20. Compion, S. (2017). The Joiners: Active voluntary association membership in twenty African countries. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 28(3), 1270–1300.

  21. Cozzi, G., Mantovan, N., & Sauer, R. M. (2017). Does it pay to work for free? Negative selection and the wage returns to volunteer experience. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, 79(6), 1018–1045.

  22. Curtis, J. E., Baer, D. E., & Grabb, E. G. (2001). Nations of joiners: Explaining voluntary association membership in democratic societies. American Sociological Review, 66(6), 783–805.

  23. Day, K. M., & Devlin, R. A. (1997). Can volunteer work help explain the male–female earnings gap? Applied Economics, 29(6), 707–721.

  24. Day, K. M., & Devlin, R. A. (1998). The payoff to work without pay: Volunteer work as an investment in human capital. Canadian Journal of Economics, 31(5), 1179–1191.

  25. Deming, D. J. (2017). The growing importance of social skills in the labor market. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 132(4), 1593–1640.

  26. Fiorillo, D., & Nappo, N. (2015). Formal and informal volunteering and health in Mediterranean Europe. Athens Journal of Mediterranean Studies, 1(4), 297–309.

  27. Fortin, N. M. (2005). Gender role attitudes and the labour-market outcomes of women across OECD countries. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 21(3), 416–438.

  28. Geroy, G. D., Wright, P. C., & Jacoby, L. (2000). Toward a conceptual framework of employee volunteerism: An aid for the human resource manager. Management Decision, 38(4), 280–287.

  29. Gesthuizen, M., & Scheepers, P. (2012). Educational differences in volunteering in cross-national perspective: Individual and contextual explanations. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 41(1), 58–81.

  30. Gesthuizen, M., Van der Meer, T., & Scheepers, P. (2008). Education and dimensions of social capital: Do educational effects differ due to educational expansion and social security expenditure? European Sociological Review, 24(5), 617–632.

  31. Gimenez-Nadal, J. I., & Molina, J. A. (2015). Voluntary activities and daily happiness in the United States. Economic Inquiry, 53(4), 1735–1750.

  32. Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2005). Organizational membership versus informal interaction: Contributions to skills and perceptions that build social capital. Political Psychology, 26(1), 1–25.

  33. Hackl, F., Halla, M., & Pruckner, G. J. (2007). Volunteering and income—The fallacy of the good Samaritan? Kyklos, 60(1), 77–104.

  34. Handy, F., Hustinx, L., Cnaan, R. A., & Kang, C. (2010). A cross-cultural examination of student volunteering: Is it all about résumé building? Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 39(3), 498–523.

  35. Haski-Leventhal, D. (2009). Elderly volunteering and well-being: A cross-European comparison based on SHARE data. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 20(4), 388–404.

  36. Hirsch, B. T. (2005). Why do part-time workers earn less? The role of worker and job skills. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 58(4), 525–551.

  37. Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

  38. Hofstede, G. (2018). Base culture data for six dimensions of culture. https://geerthofstede.com/research-and-vsm/dimension-data-matrix/. Last Accessed 3 April 2018.

  39. Hustinx, L., Handy, F., Cnaan, R. A., Brudney, J. L., Pessi, A. B., & Yamauchi, N. (2010). Social and cultural origins of motivations to volunteer a comparison of university students in six countries. International Sociology, 25(3), 349–382.

  40. Hyytinen, A., & Lahtonen, J. (2013). The effect of physical activity on long-term income. Social Science and Medicine, 96, 129–137.

  41. ISSP. (2018). International Social Survey Programme: Leisure Time and Sports—ISSP 2007. GESIS Data Archive Cologne. https://dbk.gesis.org/dbksearch/sdesc2.asp?no=4850&db=E&tab=3. Last Accessed 10 April 2018.

  42. Jiang, G., Garris, C. P., & Aldamer, S. (2018). Individualism behind collectivism: A reflection from Saudi volunteers. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 29(1), 144–159.

  43. Jones, D. A. (2010). Does serving the community also serve the company? Using organizational identification and social exchange theories to understand employee responses to a volunteerism programme. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 83(4), 857–878.

  44. Kamstra, J., Pelzer, B., Elbers, W., & Ruben, R. (2016). Constraining is enabling? Exploring the influence of national context on civil society strength. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 27(3), 1023–1044.

  45. Kiffin-Petersen, S. A., & Cordery, J. L. (2003). Trust, individualism and job characteristics as predictors of employee preference for teamwork. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 14(1), 93–116.

  46. Krägeloh, C. U., & Shepherd, G. S. (2015). Quality of life of community-dwelling retirement-aged New Zealanders: The effects of volunteering, income, and being part of a religious community. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 26(6), 2462–2478.

  47. Kumar, S., Calvo, R., Avendano, M., Sivaramakrishnan, K., & Berkman, L. F. (2012). Social support, volunteering and health around the world: Cross-national evidence from 139 countries. Social Science and Medicine, 74(5), 696–706.

  48. Lechner, M. (2009). Long-run labour market and health effects of individual sports activities. Journal of Health Economics, 28(4), 839–854.

  49. Lechner, M., & Downward, P. (2017). Heterogeneous sports participation and labour market outcomes in England. Applied Economics, 49(4), 335–348.

  50. Lee, Y., & Brudney, J. L. (2009). Rational volunteering: A benefit-cost approach. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 29(9/10), 512–530.

  51. Lin, N. (1999). Social networks and status attainment. Annual Review of Sociology, 25, 467–487.

  52. Lindqvist, E., & Vestman, R. (2011). The labor market returns to cognitive and noncognitive ability: Evidence from the Swedish enlistment. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 3(1), 101–128.

  53. Loh, E. S. (1996). Productivity differences and the marriage wage premium for white males. Journal of Human Resources, 31(3), 566–589.

  54. Melly, B. (2005). Public-private sector wage differentials in Germany: Evidence from quantile regression. Empirical Economics, 30(2), 505–520.

  55. Menchik, P. L., & Weisbrod, B. A. (1987). Volunteer labor supply. Journal of Public Economics, 32(2), 159–183.

  56. Mincer, J. (1974). Schooling, experience and earnings. New York and London: Columbia University Press.

  57. Mojza, E. J., Sonnentag, S., & Bornemann, C. (2011). Volunteer work as a valuable leisure-time activity: A day-level study on volunteer work, non-work experiences, and well-being at work. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 84(1), 123–152.

  58. Montgomery, J. D. (1992). Job search and network composition: Implications of the strength-of-weak-ties hypothesis. American Sociological Review, 57(5), 586–596.

  59. Moorman, R. H., & Blakely, G. L. (1995). Individualism-collectivism as an individual difference predictor of organizational citizenship behavior. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 16(2), 127–142.

  60. Mouw, T. (2003). Social capital and finding a job: Do contacts matter? American Sociological Review, 68(6), 868–898.

  61. Mueller, M. W. (1975). Economic determinants of volunteer work by women. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 1(2), 325–338.

  62. Paine, A. E., McKay, S., & Moro, D. (2013). Does volunteering improve employability? Insights from the British Household Panel Survey and beyond. Voluntary Sector Review, 4(3), 355–376.

  63. Parboteeah, K. P., Cullen, J. B., & Lim, L. (2004). Formal volunteering: A cross-national test. Journal of World Business, 39(4), 431–441.

  64. Peterson, D. K. (2004). Benefits of participation in corporate volunteer programs: Employees’ perceptions. Personnel Review, 33(6), 615–627.

  65. Prestby, J. E., Wandersman, A., Florin, P., Rich, R., & Chavis, D. (1990). Benefits, costs, incentive management and participation in voluntary organizations: A means to understanding and promoting empowerment. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18(1), 117–149.

  66. Prouteau, L., & Sardinha, B. (2015). Volunteering and country-level religiosity: Evidence from the European Union. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 26(1), 242–266.

  67. Prouteau, L., & Wolff, F. C. (2006). Does volunteer work pay off in the labor market? Journal of Socio-Economics, 35(6), 992–1013.

  68. Qvist, H.-P. Y., & Munk, M. D. (2018). The individual economic returns to volunteering in work life. European Sociological Review, 34(2), 198–210.

  69. Raudenbush, S. W., & Bryk, A. S. (2002). Hierarchical linear models: Applications and data analysis methods (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

  70. Ravallion, M. (2012). Troubling tradeoffs in the Human Development Index. Journal of Development Economics, 99(2), 201–209.

  71. Rodell, J. B. (2013). Finding meaning through volunteering: Why do employees volunteer and what does it mean for their jobs? Academy of Management Journal, 56(5), 1274–1294.

  72. Rooth, D. O. (2011). Work out or out of work—The labor market return to physical fitness and leisure sports activities. Labour Economics, 18(3), 399–409.

  73. Rowley, C., Wei, J. Q., & Warner, M. (2015). Approaches to international human resource management. In A.-W. Harzing & A. H. Pinnington (Eds.), International human resource management (4th ed., pp. 106–129). London: Sage.

  74. Ruiter, S., & de Graaf, N. D. (2006). National context, religiosity, and volunteering: Results from 53 countries. American Sociological Review, 71(2), 191–210.

  75. Ruiter, S., & de Graaf, N. D. (2009). Socio-economic payoffs of voluntary association involvement: A Dutch life course study. European Sociological Review, 25(4), 425–442.

  76. Russo, G., & Hassink, W. (2008). The part-time wage gap: A career perspective. De Economist, 156(2), 145–174.

  77. Sauer, R. M. (2015). Does it pay for women to volunteer? International Economic Review, 56(2), 537–564.

  78. Smith, D. H. (1993). Public benefit and member benefit nonprofit, voluntary groups. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 22(1), 53–68.

  79. Smith, D. H. (1994). Determinants of voluntary association participation and volunteering: A literature review. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 23(3), 243–263.

  80. Sousa-Poza, A., & Henneberger, F. (2004). Analyzing job mobility with job turnover intentions: An international comparative study. Journal of Economic Issues, 38(1), 113–137.

  81. Souto-Otero, M., & Shields, R. (2016). The investment model of volunteering in the EU-27 countries: Volunteering, skills development and employability. A multi-level analysis. European Societies, 18(5), 487–513.

  82. Spence, M. (1973). Job market signaling. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 87(3), 355–374.

  83. Spera, C., Ghertner, R., Nerino, A., & Di Tommaso, A. (2015). Out of work? Volunteers have higher odds of getting back to work. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 44(5), 886–907.

  84. Steenbergen, M. R., & Jones, B. S. (2002). Modeling multilevel data structure. American Journal of Political Science, 46(1), 218–237.

  85. UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (2018). Human Development Report. Expected years of schooling, 2007. http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/expected-years-schooling-children-years. Last Accessed 28 March 2018.

  86. Van Oudenhoven, J. P. (2001). Do organizations reflect national cultures? A 10-nation study. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 25(1), 89–107.

  87. Van Willigen, M. (2000). Differential benefits of volunteering across the life course. Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 55(5), S308–S318.

  88. Veal, A. J., & Nichols, G. (2017). Volunteering and income inequality: Cross-national relationships. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 28(1), 379–399.

  89. Veerasamy, C., Sambasivan, M., & Kumar, N. (2015). Life satisfaction among healthcare volunteers in Malaysia: Role of personality factors, volunteering motives, and spiritual capital. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 26(2), 531–552.

  90. Weeden, K. A. (2002). Why do some occupations pay more than others? Social closure and earnings inequality in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 108(1), 55–101.

  91. Weichselbaumer, D., & Winter-Ebmer, R. (2005). A meta-analysis of the international gender wage gap. Journal of Economic Surveys, 19(3), 479–511.

  92. Wilson, J., & Musick, M. (1999). The effects of volunteering on the volunteer. Law and Contemporary Problems, 62(4), 141–168.

  93. Wilson, J., & Musick, M. (2003). Doing well by doing good. Sociological Quarterly, 44(3), 433–450.

  94. Wollebaek, D., & Selle, P. (2002). Does participation in voluntary associations contribute to social capital? The impact of intensity, scope, and type. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 31(1), 32–61.

  95. World Bank. (2018a). GDP per capita, PPP (constant 2011 international $). https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.PP.KD. Last Accessed 3 April 2018.

  96. World Bank. (2018b). PPP conversion factor, private consumption (LCU per international $). https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/PA.NUS.PRVT.PP. Last Accessed 3 April 2018.

  97. Yeung, J. W. (2017). Religious involvement and participation in volunteering: Types, domains and aggregate. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 28(1), 110–138.

  98. Ziemek, S. (2006). Economic analysis of volunteers’ motivations—A cross-country study. Journal of Socio-Economics, 35(3), 532–555.

Download references


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.

Author information

Correspondence to Susanne Warning.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.



See Tables 7 and 8.

Table 7 Country-level variables (raw data)
Table 8 Additional models

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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

Download citation


  • Activity in voluntary associations
  • Volunteering
  • Wages
  • International comparison
  • Human capital
  • Signaling