Volunteering and income inequality: cross-national relationships

Springer Verlag
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 2017, 28 (1), pp. 379 - 399 (21)
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
Wilkinson and Pickett, in their 2009 book The Spirit Level, found that, in rich countries, income inequality was negatively associated with a range of indicators of well-being, but they did not consider the relationship with volunteering. This paper seeks to fill that gap. Using existing data sources, it shows that, among European countries, higher levels of volunteering are associated with lower levels of income inequality. The relationship is particularly strong for regular and sport-related volunteering. The basic Spirit Level thesis is therefore confirmed as applicable to volunteering. However, while the thesis involves just one theoretical explanation for the income inequality/well-being relationship, namely status anxiety, in the case of volunteering, other variables are also found to be at play, including government social spending, available leisure time and geo-historical traditions. It is concluded that, while high levels of volunteering, as a form of social capital, can be seen as one of a number of features of more equal societies, disentangling cause and effect may require a more holistic approach to understanding its contribution to the generation and sustaining of social well-being.
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