Does it pay to care? Volunteering and employment opportunities


We investigate whether volunteering has a causal effect on individual employment opportunities. To this end, a field experiment is conducted in which volunteering activities are randomly assigned to fictitious job applications sent to genuine vacancies in Belgium. We find that volunteers are 7.3 percentage points more likely to get a positive reaction to their job applications. The volunteering premium is higher for females but invariant with respect to the number of engagements.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    One exception is the finding of a decrease in current earnings by 1.7% for volunteers in the subgroup of workers in the private sector in France (Prouteau and Wolff 2006).

  2. 2.

    Based on the ESS6 data mentioned in the introduction, the level of volunteering in Belgium is slightly above the average level across all respondents in Europe. More concretely, 27.0% of the surveyed Belgians in the ESS6 data reported having undertaken volunteer work during the previous 6 months (see Fig. 1).

  3. 3.

    Throughout this article, with the ‘surplus of volunteering’, we refer to job candidates’ higher probability of positive callback due to volunteer work disclosed in their résumés.

  4. 4.

    For instance, age discrimination is tested by Riach and Rich (2007) in the occupation of waiter only, by Albert et al. (2011) in the occupations of seller and waiter only and by Ahmed et al. (2012) in the occupation of clerk (in accountancy, administration or sales) only.

  5. 5.

    ISCED stands for ‘International Standard Classification of Education’. ISCED 3 refers to upper secondary education (i.e. more specialised education that typically begins at age 15 or 16 years preparing; it prepares pupils for tertiary education, provides them with skills relevant to employment or does both. Examples of tested occupations at this level are administrative clerk, call center employee, commercial clerk, demonstrator, executive clerk, representative and (tele-)seller. ISCED 5 refers to the first stage of tertiary education (i.e. programmes with an educational content more advanced than those offered at ISCED level 3 and ISCED level 4 (post-secondary non-tertiary education), which might be academically or practically oriented). Examples of tested occupations at this level are (assistant) accountant, consultant in marketing and publicity, consultant in finance, consultant in recruitment and selection, customer declaration officer and executive assistant human resources.

  6. 6.

    In parallel with this field experiment, an analogous experiment was conducted with Turkish names to investigate whether volunteering might reduce ethnic labour market discrimination (Baert and Vujić 2016).

  7. 7.

    As mentioned earlier, 23.4% of all European and 27.0% of all Belgian respondents in the ESS6 reported that they were involved in volunteer work. When focussing only on the subpopulation of interest for our study, i.e. youth respondents, the corresponding percentage is 24.0% for the 15- to 24-year-olds both in Europe and Belgium. So, volunteer work is more or less as common for young people as for adults.

  8. 8.

    This sports was chosen due to its high representation of both females and males.

  9. 9.

    By presenting both outcomes, we pursue to be as complementary to the literature as possible. A substantial proportion of correspondence studies only provide statistics on positive callback in a broad sense (Albert et al. 2011; Jacquemet and Yannelis 2012; Kaas and Manger 2012; Patacchini et al. 2015), while another substantial proportion only focuses on interview rates (Ahmed et al. 2012; Bertrand and Mullainathan 2004; Eriksson and Rooth 2014; Kroft et al. 2013; Riach and Rich 2007). Some recent contributions present both outcome measures, as we do (Baert et al. 2016a; Baert et al. 2016b; Lahey 2008; Neumark et al. 2015).

  10. 10.

    Broken down by the four categories of positive callback mentioned at the end of Sect. 2.3, the volunteering candidates got, besides an interview invitation in 11.1% of the cases (32 vacancies), a proposal of an alternative position in 1.4% of the cases (4 vacancies), an inquiry to provide the employer with more information in 3.5% of the cases (10 vacancies) and a general inquiry to contact the employer in 6.9% of the cases (20 vacancies). The control candidate got, besides an interview invitation in 8.3% of the cases (24 vacancies), a proposal of an alternative position in 0.3% of the cases (1 vacancy), an inquiry to provide the employer with more information in 2.4% of the cases (7 vacancies) and a general inquiry to contact the employer in 4.5% of the cases (13 vacancies).

  11. 11.

    Stated otherwise, volunteers are 46.7% (≈ 0.229/0.156) more likely to get positive callback in a broad sense and 33.3% (≈ 0.111/0.083) more likely to get positive callback in a strict sense compared to non-volunteers.

  12. 12.

    In addition, breaking down our data by the gender of the candidates indicates that Belgian employers prefer female workers in the tested occupations. This might be related to the fact that these occupations are female-dominated. Because typically female characteristics are perceived as particularly productive in traditionally female occupations, hiring outcomes are expected to be more in favour of women in these female-dominated occupations (Baert et al. 2016a; Booth and Leigh 2010; Weichselbaumer 2004).

  13. 13.

    An important caveat in this respect is that we might have lacked statistical power to reject unequal treatment for the subsamples of vacancies in which the treated candidate revealed only one volunteering activity (96 vacancies) or three volunteering activities (48 vacancies).

  14. 14.

    In case one (two; three) engagement(s) is (are) mentioned, the probability for each particular type to be included in the résumé is 33.3% (66.7; 100.0%).

  15. 15.

    While the size of our sample is substantially lower than the size of the data gathered in some recent large-scale correspondence experiments in the USA such as Kroft et al. (2013) and Neumark et al. (2015), it is at least comparable to many other recent (and well-published) field experiments included in the review study of Baert (2017). In addition, a post hoc power analysis shows that based on the variation in our dataset, we were able to distinguish rather small effects from zero effects. For instance, an increase of the positive callback rate in a broad sense with 4.7 (≈ 1.96 × 0.024 × 100) percentage points could have been rejected at the 5% significance level.

  16. 16.

    For instance, subtracting the male positive callback difference of 1.4 percentage points from the female positive callback difference of 13.2 shown in panel A of Table 2 yields 11.8.

  17. 17.

    Traditionally, the rate of volunteer participation has been found to be higher in the public and non-profit sector than in the private sector (Bandiera 2014; Prouteau and Wolff 2006; Rotolo and Wilson 2006). It remains unclear whether this phenomenon is because prosocial employees are attracted to the societal goals of non-commercial organisations and, ipso facto, sort themselves into these organisations, or whether employers in the public and non-profit sector are more likely than for-profit employers to rely on intrinsically (socially) motivated employees because of their unique organisational needs, with a strong desire for the generation of social benefits (Anderson et al. 2004; Bandiera et al. 2011; Baron and Hannan 2002; Francois and Vlassopoulos 2008; Jacobsen et al. 2011; Kolstad and Lindkvist 2013; Leete 2000; Schneider 1987).

  18. 18.

    In these models, the variables without an interaction with volunteering are saturated (as they are constant at the vacancy level).

  19. 19.

    The outcome variable of this model is 2 in cases in which the candidate is immediately invited to a job interview, 1 in cases in which she/he receives any other (broad-sense) positive reaction and 0 in cases in which she/he receives no positive reaction at all.

  20. 20.

    Day and Devlin (1997) and Dittrich and Mey (2015) show, indeed, that women in Canada and Germany spend more time performing volunteer work at religious organisations or organisations that help the poor or the elderly, whereas men are more active in recreational organisations and service clubs, such as the Rotary Club. Exploratory analyses by Day and Devlin (1997) indicate that the latter types of volunteering are more rewarded in the labour market.

  21. 21.

    In addition, volunteering might be related to personality traits such as emotional stability, extraversion and openness, as mentioned in Sect. 1.


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We would like to thank Koen Van De Velde and Morgane Vercruysse for their excellent research assistance. In addition, we are grateful to editor Erdal Tekin, three anonymous reviewers and the participants of the WM workshop at the University of Lille, the 2017 Royal Economic Society Annual Conference, the 31st Annual Conference of the European Society for Population Economics and the 29th conference of the European Association of Labour Economists for their valuable comments to earlier versions of the manuscript and for their constructive suggestions.

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Correspondence to Stijn Baert.

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This research was reviewed and approved by the Ethical Committee of the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration of Ghent University at its meeting of 9 July 2013.

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Baert, S., Vujić, S. Does it pay to care? Volunteering and employment opportunities. J Popul Econ 31, 819–836 (2018).

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  • Volunteering
  • Labour market
  • Statistical discrimination
  • Experiments


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