Women are catching up to men in volunteering, and they engage in more altruistic voluntary activities
March 2015 - Over the last six years women have increased their participation in volunteering and are today almost on par with men. The biggest increase in female participation in voluntary activities was registered in Italy, the Slovak Republic, Canada and Estonia. In many countries a gender dimension is more apparent in specific sectors and voluntary roles rather than in overall participation rates in volunteering. Men are much more likely than women to volunteer in sports associations, while women make up the majority of volunteers active in the social and health sector (as suggested by European/World Values Survey). In Mexico, for instance, the percentage of men volunteering in the sports and recreational sector is three times higher than that of women; while in Chile almost 70% of volunteers in the social and health sector are women.
Volunteer work is a sizeable part of the labour force in most countries and makes a significant economic contribution. In the United Kingdom for example, volunteering produces twice as much value as the agriculture sector and about the same amount as the telecoms sector (ONS data). But the true value of volunteering goes far beyond a monetary figure, as helping others improves employment and income prospects, lowers criminal activity, enhances social solidarity, and so forth.
On average, more than one in four people in the OECD countries engage in voluntary activities at least once a year (OECD based on Gallup World Poll). The percentage of volunteers varies greatly across countries – ranging from 7% in Greece to 40% in Canada, the Netherlands and the United States. Between 2008 and 2014, the number of volunteers increased in many OECD countries, with upward trends in volunteering rates being possibly related to a higher awareness of social and environmental concerns among the general public as well as an increased sense of solidarity to face economic difficulties.
Volunteering rates, 2008 and 2014
Percentage of the population reporting having volunteered some of their time during the previous 12 months
Note: The first available year refers to 2009 for the Czech Republic, Greece, Slovenia and Switzerland; and to 2010 for the Slovak Republic. The latest vailable year refer to 2013 for Chile, Hungary and Iceland. Countries are ranked in ascending order of volunteering rates in 2014.