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Participation in different types of volunteering at young, middle and older adulthood


Around 35 % of Australian adults volunteer. It has been found that participation in volunteering varies with life course stage: people tend to participate less in early adulthood, which has been referred to as a ‘demographically dense’ period, and more in middle adulthood, which has been characterized as a more stable period of life. This paper extends this research to investigate the types of organizations for which people volunteer at different life course stages. This paper uses data from the Negotiating the Life Course project (2003 and 2006) to examine participation in volunteering for different types of organizations. The focus is on the type of organizations for which people volunteer and how that differs in young, middle and older adulthood. There are three dominant types of organizations that people volunteer for: welfare and community, sport and recreation, and education and training, and volunteering with each of these groups varies with a person’s life course stage. Younger adults tend to be more likely to volunteer for religious groups. People in middle adulthood, and particularly those with school-aged children, tend to volunteer in sport and recreation groups and education and training organizations, and volunteering with welfare, community and health organizations is dominant in older adulthood.

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  1. Survey weights adjust for sampling procedure.

  2. This list overlaps with the International Classification of Non-Profit Organisations (ICNPO) in the United Nations Handbook on Non-Profit Institutions in the System of National Accounts (2003). Since the 11 groups are listed in the NLC Survey Questionnaire, it is not possible to regroup them into the categories of the ICNPO. The main differences between this list and the ICNPO major groupings are (1) culture and arts are grouped separately from sports and recreation whereas in the ICNPO they are all in major Group 1 as Culture and Recreation; (2) emergency services are grouped separately from welfare and community services whereas in the ICNPO they are all in major Group 4 as Social Services; (3) the ICNPO has a group called Philanthropic intermediaries and voluntarism promotion (Group 8), which is not listed in the NCL Survey and would be included in the ‘Other’ category; and (4) the ICNPO has a major group called Development and Housing (Group 6) which includes employment and training and social and community development. In the NLC Survey, training is included with ‘Education’, and social and community development is included in ‘Welfare/community’’. Aside from these differences, the other groups listed in the NLC survey questionnaire are similar to the other major groups in the ICNPO.

  3. It is very rare that this type of transition analysis can be examined for volunteering. Volunteering information is rarely collected in longitudinal surveys, and we know of no other longitudinal survey which collects information on type of organization volunteered for. This analysis can only be conducted between Wave 3 and Wave 4 because the questions on volunteering are collected differently in earlier waves.


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The NLC survey is funded by the Australian Research Council (A7990570, DP0208305, DP0663459, DP0987834).

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Correspondence to Edith Gray.

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Gray, E., Khoo, SE. & Reimondos, A. Participation in different types of volunteering at young, middle and older adulthood. J Pop Research 29, 373–398 (2012).

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  • Volunteering
  • Civic participation
  • Life course
  • Welfare and community
  • Sport and recreation
  • Education and training