Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Are We Too Busy to Volunteer? the Relationship between Time and Volunteering Using the 1997 ABS Time Use Data

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Are We Too Busy to Volunteer? the Relationship between Time and Volunteering Using the 1997 ABS Time Use Data

Article excerpt


Volunteering has been defined as a freely-chosen gift of time to the community (Noble, 1991). The implicit assumption is that volunteers are those with time to spare who are willing to give their time in service to the community without receiving any monetary reward. As a result of change within the modern labour force in most developed countries and the resulting social implications, there is a shift in assumptions about which groups are the ones with time to spare. These groups could be regarded as a potential pool of volunteers.

Time is thus a key concept in understanding both why people volunteer and why they do not. The notion of "time to spare" has been attributed to why women have been the traditional source of volunteers and why policy attention is now turning towards others outside paid work, particularly the retired and the unemployed, to volunteer in response to increasing demand.

Studies of volunteering have shown that the need to fill in time is often given as a reason for volunteering (e.g. Clary, Snyder & Stukas, 1996). Similarly being too busy or having insufficient free time is often cited as a reason for not volunteering (e.g. Paolicchi, 1995). Time may place constraints on an individual's ability to volunteer. Most studies demonstrate that people are motivated by a range of factors, including time availability (Cnaan and Goldberg-Glen, 1991).

The notion of time availability is reflected in the policy response that has focused on those outside paid work as a potential source of volunteers. Organisations have assumed that this is the group with time to spare, who would thus be willing and able to undertake volunteer work. The increasing trend for older people, particularly older males, to retire from full-time work early (ABS, 1994), has led to them being targeted as a rich resource for volunteer organisations (Warburton, 1997a). The unemployed too are targeted as potential volunteers, with the current shift of focus of welfare policy from entitlement to mutual obligation (Macintyre, 1999; Newman, 1999). The government perception is that volunteering is one avenue for those outside paid work to fill their time productively.

Social and economic change is affecting the supply of volunteers. Changes in employment, work force participation, retirement, family and caring responsibilities, are all said to impact on the availability of volunteers (ACOSS, 1996). This paper discusses these issues and examines the relationship between time use and volunteering. Using the ABS 1997 Time Use data (ABS, 1997b), the paper looks for differences between those who state they have spare time and those who do not in order to identify future patterns of those who could be considered potential volunteers.

Recent social trends

In 1995, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) conducted the first national survey of volunteer work attached to its monthly labour force statistics. This survey showed that an estimated 2.6 million people or 19% of the Australian population were volunteers. The Voluntary Work Survey also showed a marked variation in volunteer participation rates according to age and life stage (ABS, 1995; ABS, 1997a).

Overall, more women than men participate in volunteer work (21.3% and 16.7% respectively) and this is consistent across all age groups (ABS, 1995). This is a consistent feature of volunteering throughout Australia's white history, where women have traditionally been the major source of volunteers, particularly in social welfare (ACOSS, 1996; Baldock, 1990).

The highest volunteer participation rates are for women and men in the 35-44 years age group (31% and 23.8% respectively). The second highest group is that of women and men aged 45-55 years (24% and 21% respectively). These two age groups are the most likely to be caring for dependent children and the high rate of volunteering reflects the involvement of parents, particularly mothers, in their children's activities. …

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