4441.0 - Voluntary Work, Australia, 2006  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 20/07/2007   
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1 This publication presents detailed information on volunteers and volunteering for people aged 18 years and over in Australia, compiled from the voluntary work module included in the 2006 General Social Survey (GSS). The GSS collected information about personal and household characteristics for people aged 18 years and over resident in private dwellings, throughout non-remote areas of Australia, from March to July 2006.

2 The major aim of the voluntary work module (referred to here as the Voluntary Work Survey) was to collect data on rates of participation in voluntary work, the characteristics of people who volunteered, the types of organisations for which they worked, the activities they undertook, as well as data about the motivation for volunteering. Two similar national voluntary work surveys have been conducted by the ABS before: the first as part of the Monthly Population Survey in 1995, and the second on the Population Survey Monitor conducted over four quarters in 2000. The information collected in the 2006 survey is mostly a repeat of the 2000 Voluntary Work Survey. However, in 2006 for the first time, data have also been collected on informal unpaid community work - caring for people with a disability and providing assistance to relatives, friends and others in the wider community. Information on whether people made monetary donations to organisations was also collected in 2006 as in the 2000 survey.

3 The 2006 GSS collected data on a range of social dimensions from the same individual to enable analysis of the interrelationships in social circumstances and outcomes, including the exploration of multiple advantage and disadvantage experienced by that individual. The 2006 GSS is the second in the series, with the first GSS conducted in 2002. It is planned to repeat the survey at regular intervals. Each cycle of the GSS collects comparable information for the core dimensions to allow for analysis of changes over time. A flexible component is also included to collect additional information on emerging or important topics of social concern. The flexible component of the 2006 GSS included topics relating to social capital, voluntary work and category of visa held by Australian immigrants. Because its vehicle is the GSS, the power of this wide range of social and economic data items is also available for analysis of volunteering.


4 The 2006 GSS collected information about:

  • demographic characteristics
  • health and disability
  • housing and residential mobility
  • education
  • employment
  • income
  • financial stress
  • assets and liabilities
  • information technology
  • transport
  • family and community involvement
  • crime and feelings of safety
  • attendance at culture and leisure venues
  • sports attendance and participation
  • social networks and social participation
  • caring and informal help
  • voluntary work
  • visa category


5 The dimensions of voluntary work that the 2006 GSS collected information about included:


  • demographic and socio-economic characteristics
  • number of organisations for which volunteered
  • type, sector and staffing arrangements of organisations
  • groups selected organisation types aim to assist
  • duration of volunteering
  • frequency of volunteering
  • hours spent on voluntary work
  • voluntary work activities
  • expenses and availability of remuneration
  • how first became involved in volunteering
  • current reasons for volunteering

Donors of money
  • demographic and socio-economic characteristics
  • type of recipient organisations

6 A full list of the data items from the 2006 GSS is contained in the General Social Survey: User Guide (cat. no. 4159.0.55.002) available on the ABS web site <www.abs.gov.au>.


7 Only people who were usual residents of private dwellings in Australia were covered by the survey. Private dwellings are houses, flats, home units and any other structures used as private places of residence at the time of the survey. People usually resident in non-private dwellings such as hotels, motels, hostels, hospitals and short-stay caravan parks were not included in the survey. Usual residents are those who usually live in a particular dwelling and regard it as their own or main home. Visitors to private dwellings are not included in the interview for that dwelling. However, if they are a usual resident of another dwelling that is in the scope of the survey they have a chance of being selected in the survey or, if not selected, they will be represented by similar persons who are selected in the survey. At 30 June 2006, there were 376,000 people aged 18 years and over living in non-private dwellings throughout Australia. The exclusion of these people (2% of the population) is unlikely to impact on the estimates included in this publication.

8 The GSS was conducted in both urban and rural areas in all states and territories, except for very remote parts of Australia. Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have very remote areas. With the exception of the Northern Territory, the population living in very remote areas represents only a small proportion of the total population (approximately 2%). For this, and other practical reasons, no adjustment was made to state population benchmarks (population benchmarks are discussed below) when deriving survey results. This exclusion is unlikely to impact on national estimates, and will only have a minor impact on any aggregate estimates that are produced for individual states and territories, except the Northern Territory where the excluded population accounts for over 20% of persons.

9 Only persons aged 18 years and over were included in the survey. The Australian population at 30 June 2006, after the exclusion of people living in non-private dwellings and very remote areas of Australia, was 20,051,650, of whom approximately 15,307,070 were aged 18 years and over.

10 The following non-residents were excluded from resident population estimates used to benchmark the survey results, and were not interviewed:

  • diplomatic personnel of overseas governments
  • members of non-Australian defence forces (and their dependants) stationed in Australia
  • persons whose usual place of residence was outside Australia.


11 The GSS was designed to provide reliable estimates at the national level and for each state and territory. The sample was therefore spread across the states and territories in order to produce estimates that have a relative standard error (RSE) of no greater than 10% for characteristics that are relatively common in the national population, say that at least 10% of the population would possess.

12 Dwellings included in the survey in each state and territory were selected at random using a multi-stage area sample. This sample included only private dwellings from the geographic areas covered by the survey. The initial sample for the survey consisted of approximately 17,700 private dwellings. This number was reduced to approximately 15,500 dwellings due to the loss of households which had no residents in scope for the survey and where dwellings proved to be vacant, under construction or derelict. Of the eligible dwellings, 86.5% responded fully (or adequately) which yielded a total sample from the survey of 13,375 dwellings.


13 ABS interviewers conducted personal interviews at selected dwellings during the period March to July 2006. Interviews were conducted using a Computer Assisted Interviewing (CAI) questionnaire. CAI involves the use of a notebook computer to record, store, manipulate and transmit the data collected during interviews.

14 Much of the detail obtained from the GSS was provided by one person aged 18 years or over, randomly selected from each participating household. The random selection of this person was made once basic information had been obtained about all household members. The voluntary work information was collected from and in respect of the randomly selected person. Some financial and housing items collected in the GSS required the selected person to answer on behalf of other members of the household. In some cases, particularly where household information was not known by the selected person, a spokesperson for the household was nominated to provide household information.

15 A copy of the 2006 GSS interview questions is available in the General Social Survey: User Guide (cat. no. 4159.0.55.002) available on the ABS web site <www.abs.gov.au>. Voluntary work and giving questions constitute Module 9 of the GSS.



16 Weighting is the process of adjusting results from a sample survey to infer results for the total in-scope population. To do this, a 'weight' is allocated to each sample unit e.g. a person or a household. The weight is a value which indicates how many population units are represented by the sample unit.

17 The first step in calculating weights for each person or household is to assign an initial weight, which is equal to the inverse of the probability of being selected in the survey. For example, if the probability of a person being selected in the survey was 1 in 600, then the person would have an initial weight of 600 (that is, they represent 600 people).


18 The initial weights were then calibrated to align with independent estimates of the population of interest, referred to as 'benchmarks'. Weights calibrated against population benchmarks ensure that the survey estimates conform to the independently estimated distribution of the population rather than to the distribution within the sample itself. Calibration to population benchmarks helps to compensate for over- or under-enumeration of particular categories of persons which may occur due to either the random nature of sampling or non-response.

19 The 2006 GSS was benchmarked to the estimated resident population (ERP) aged 18 years and over living in private dwellings in each state and territory, excluding the ERP living in very remote areas of Australia, at 30 June 2006. The ERP estimates for 2006 were based on results from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing. Therefore the GSS estimates do not (and are not intended to) match estimates for the total Australian resident population (which include persons and households living in non-private dwellings, such as hotels and boarding houses, and in very remote parts of Australia) obtained from other sources.


20 Survey estimates of counts of persons are obtained by summing the weights of persons or households with the characteristic of interest. Estimates for means, such as mean age of persons, are obtained by summing the weights of persons in each category (e.g. individual ages), multiplying by the value for each category, aggregating the results across categories, then dividing by the sum of the weights for all persons.

21 The estimates shown in this publication are based on benchmarked person weights. The estimates of equivalised household income contained in tables 3-6 and 36 are based on benchmarked household weights in their derivation, but in these tables the equivalised household income is treated as a characteristic of the individual.


22 All sample surveys are subject to error which can be broadly categorised as either sampling error or non-sampling error. Sampling error occurs because only a small proportion of the total population is used to produce estimates that represent the whole population. Sampling error can be reliably measured as it is calculated based on the scientific methods used to design surveys. Non-sampling errors occur when survey processes work less effectively than intended. For example, some persons selected for the survey may not respond (non-response); some survey questions may not be clearly understood by the respondent; and occasionally errors can be made in processing data from the survey.

Sampling error

23 Sampling error is the difference between the published estimates, derived from a sample of persons, and the value that would have been produced if all persons in scope of the survey had been included. For more information refer to the 'Technical notes'. Sampling error is measured for this survey by relative standard errors (RSEs). In this publication estimates with RSEs of 25% to 50% are preceded by an asterisk (e.g. *3.4) to indicate that the estimate should be used with caution. Estimates with RSEs over 50% are indicated by a double asterisk (e.g.**0.6) and should be considered unreliable for most purposes.

Non-sampling error

24 One of the main sources of non-sampling error is non-response by persons selected in the survey. Non-response can affect the reliability of results and can introduce bias. The magnitude of any bias depends upon the level of non-response and the extent of the difference between the characteristics of those people who responded to the survey and those who did not.

25 To reduce the level and impact of non-response, the following methods were adopted in this survey:

  • face-to-face interviews with respondents
  • the use of interviewers who could speak languages other than English where necessary
  • follow-up of respondents if there was initially no response, ensuring the weighted file is representative of the population by aligning the estimates with population benchmarks.

26 Of the dwellings selected in the 2006 GSS, 13.5% did not respond fully or adequately. As the non-response to the GSS was low, the impact of non-response bias is considered to be negligible.

27 Every effort was made to minimise other non-sampling error by careful design and testing of questionnaires, intensive training and supervision of interviewers, and extensive editing and quality control procedures at all stages of data processing.

28 An advantage of the CAI technology used in conducting interviews for this survey is that it potentially reduces non-sampling errors by enabling edits to be applied as the data are being collected. The interviewer is alerted immediately if information entered into the computer is either outside the permitted range for that question, or contradictory to information previously recorded during the interview. These edits allow the interviewer to query respondents and resolve issues during the interview. CAI sequencing of questions is also automated such that respondents are asked only relevant questions and only in the appropriate sequence, eliminating interviewer sequencing errors.


29 The estimates in this publication are based on information collected from March to July 2006, and due to seasonal effects they may not be fully representative of other time periods in the year. For example, the GSS asked standard ABS questions on labour force status to determine whether a person was employed. Employment is subject to seasonal variation through the year. Therefore, the GSS results for employment could have differed if the GSS had been conducted over the whole year or in a different part of the year. Information about volunteering was collected with a 12-month reference period.


30 Care has been taken to ensure that the results of this survey are as accurate as possible. All interviews were conducted by trained ABS officers. Extensive reference material was developed for use in the field enumeration and intensive training was provided to interviewers in both classroom and on-the-job environments. There remain, however, other factors which may have affected the reliability of results, and for which no specific adjustments can be made. The following factors should be considered when interpreting these estimates:

  • Information recorded in this survey is essentially 'as reported' by respondents, and hence may differ from information available from other sources or collected using different methodologies. Responses may be affected by imperfect recall or individual interpretation of survey questions.
  • Some respondents may have provided responses that they felt were expected, rather than those that accurately reflected their own situation. Every effort has been made to minimise such bias through the development and use of culturally appropriate survey methodology.

31 Further information on the interpretation of results is contained in the General Social Survey: User Guide (cat. no. 4159.0.55.002) available on the ABS web site <www.abs.gov.au>.


32 Occupation data are dual classified according to the ASCO - Australian Standard Classification of Occupations, Second Edition, 1997 (cat. no. 1220.0.30.001) - and the newly released ANZSCO - Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations, First Edition, 2006 (cat. no. 1220.0).

33 Country of birth data are classified according to the Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC), 1998 Revision 2.03 (cat. no. 1269.0).

34 Area data (Capital city, Balance of state/territory; Remoteness areas) are classified according to the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC) (cat. no. 1216.0).

35 The Australian Culture and Leisure Classifications, 2001 (cat. no. 4902.0) is available on the data file.


36 Below is information describing the range of data to be made available from the 2006 General Social Survey, both in published form and on request. Products available on the ABS web site <www.abs.gov.au> are indicated accordingly.

Voluntary Work, Australia, 2006 Data Cubes

37 An electronic version of the tables released in this publication, in spreadsheet format, is available on the ABS web site (cat. no. 4441.0). The spreadsheet presents the tables and the related RSEs for each publication table.


38 For users who wish to undertake more detailed analysis of the survey data, including the detailed voluntary work information, microdata from the 2006 GSS have been released in the form of two confidentialised unit record files (CURFs), the basic CURF and the expanded CURF. Information regarding the basic CURF (General Social Survey: Basic Confidentialised Unit Record File, cat.no.4159.0.30.001) and the expanded CURF (General Social Survey: Expanded Confidentialised Unit Record File, cat.no.4159.0.30.002) is available on the ABS web site. The expanded CURF contains more detail than the basic CURF and is only available via the Remote Access Data Laboratory (RADL), which is a secure Internet-based data query service. The basic CURF is available via CD ROM or RADL. The 2006 GSS user guide (General Social Survey: User Guide, cat. no. 4159.0.55.002), which is available on the ABS web site, contains technical information describing the content and use of the GSS basic and expanded CURFs. It also includes detailed information about the survey content, methodology, data processing, data quality and dissemination.

General Social Survey: User Guide

39 The GSS User Guide is released in conjunction with this summary results publication. It provides detailed information about the survey content, methodology and data interpretation. It also contains the list of GSS data items, survey questions and prompt cards. The User Guide is available free-of-charge on the ABS web site (cat. no. 4159.0.55.002).

40 Up-to-date information on the ABS RADL service, including information on pricing, 'Applications & Undertakings', and a training manual outlining obligations and responsibilities when accessing ABS microdata, is available on the ABS web site <www.abs.gov.au>. Those wishing to access the 2006 GSS microdata should contact the officer noted at the front of this publication.

Data available on request

41 Special tabulations of GSS data are available on request and for a fee. Subject to confidentiality and sampling variability constraints, tabulations can be produced from the survey incorporating data items, populations and geographic areas selected to meet individual requirements. These can be provided in printed or electronic form. Please refer to the contact details noted at the front of this publication.


42 Current publications and other products released by the ABS are available on the ABS web site <www.abs.gov.au>. ABS publications which may be of interest are:

  • How Australians Use Their Time, 1997 (cat. no. 4153.0)
  • Unpaid Work and the Australian Economy,1997 (cat. no. 5240.0)
  • Involvement in Organised Sport and Physical Activity, Australia, Apr 2004 (cat. no. 6285.0)
  • Attendance at Selected Cultural Venues and Events, Australia, 2005-06 (cat. no. 4114.0)
  • Voluntary Work, Australia, 2000 (cat. no. 4441.0)
  • Australian National Accounts: Non-profit Institutions Satellite Account, 1999-2000 (cat. no. 5256.0)
  • Aspects of Social Capital, Australia, 2006 (cat. no. 4911.0)
  • Australian Social Trends, 2006 (cat. no. 4102.0)
  • Measures of Australia's Progress, 2006 (cat. no. 1370.0)