4441.0 - Voluntary Work, Australia, 2010  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 01/12/2011   
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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 2010 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 not very remote areas of Australia, from August to November 2010.

2 The major aim of the voluntary work module was to collect data on rates of participation in voluntary work, the characteristics of people who volunteered and the types of organisations for which they worked. Four similar national voluntary work surveys have been conducted by the ABS before: the first as part of the Monthly Population Survey in 1995, the second on the Population Survey Monitor conducted over four quarters in 2000 and the third and fourth as part of the 2002 and 2006 General Social Survey.

3 The 2010 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 2010 GSS is the third in the series, with the first GSS conducted in 2002 and again in 2006. It is planned to repeat the survey at regular intervals (currently four-yearly). Each cycle of the GSS collects comparable information for the core dimensions to allow for analysis of changes over time. A cyclical component is also included to collect additional information on emerging or important topics of social concern. The flexible component of the 2010 GSS included topics relating to social inclusion, such as experience of homelessness and financial resilience and exclusion. Voluntary work is also a cyclical component. A full module on volunteering was collected in the 2006 GSS, while the 2010 GSS collected a reduced set of volunteering data items. The following data items were not collected in 2010:

  • type, sector and staffing arrangements of organisations
  • groups that selected organisation types aim to assist
  • duration of volunteering
  • hours spent on voluntary work
  • how first become involved in volunteering
  • current reasons for volunteering
  • voluntary work activities


4 The 2010 GSS collected information about:
  • demographic characteristics
  • health, disability and wellbeing
  • housing
  • education
  • employment
  • experience of homelessness
  • income
  • financial stress, exclusion and resilience
  • 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
  • voluntary work
  • visa category


5 The dimensions of voluntary work that the 2010 GSS collected information about included:

  • demographic and socio-economic characteristics
  • number of organisations for which volunteered
  • type of organisations
  • frequency of volunteering
  • expenses and availability of reimbursement

6 A full list of the data items from the 2010 GSS is contained in the General Social Survey: User Guide (cat. no. 4159.0.55.002) to be released 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 GSS. Private dwellings are houses, flats, home units and any other structures used as private places of residence at the time of the survey. People who usually reside 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.

8 The GSS was conducted in both urban and rural areas in all states and territories, except for very remote parts of Australia. 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 The Australian population at September 2010, after the exclusion of people living in non-private dwellings and very remote areas of Australia, was 21,836,200, of which 16,788,159 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 For the 2010 cycle, the standard sampling methodology was adapted in order to provide better estimates of people experiencing disadvantage. Using Census 2006 data and a proxy indicator of disadvantage, areas with high concentrations of people experiencing disadvantage were given a higher probability of selection in the survey. Households were then randomly selected from each area selected to participate in the survey.

13 The initial sample for the survey consisted of approximately 19,576 private dwellings. This number was reduced to approximately 17,158 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, 87.6% responded fully (or adequately) which yielded a total sample from the survey of 15,028 dwellings.

14 Some survey respondents provided most of the required information, but were unable or unwilling to provide a response to certain data items. The records for these persons were retained in the sample and the missing values were recorded as 'don't know' or 'not stated'. No attempt was made to deduce or impute for these missing values. Approximately 2,551 respondents (15%) did not provide one or more required answers but were deemed to have responded adequately. Details of missing values for data items are presented in paragraph 34 of the Explanatory Notes in General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2010 (cat. no. 4159.0).


15 ABS interviewers conducted personal interviews using a Computer Assisted Interviewing (CAI) questionnaire at selected dwellings during the period August to November 2010. CAI involves the use of a notebook computer to record, store, manipulate and transmit the data collected during interviews.

16 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.

17 A copy of the 2010 GSS interview questions will be available in the General Social Survey: User Guide (cat. no. 4159.0.55.002) on the ABS web site <www.abs.gov.au>. Voluntary work constitutes Module 9 of the GSS.



18 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 i.e. a person or a household. The weight is a value which indicates how many population units are represented by the sample unit.

19 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).


20 The initial weights are 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.

21 The GSS was benchmarked to the in-scope estimated resident population (ERP) aged 18 years and over and the estimated number of households in the population. The 2010 GSS used population and household benchmarks based on the 2006 Census.

22 Given that the GSS heavily sampled areas of multiple social disadvantage, further analysis was undertaken to ascertain whether benchmark variables, in addition to geography, age and sex, should be incorporated into the weighting strategy. Analysis showed that the standard weighting approach did not adequately compensate for differential undercoverage in the 2010 GSS sample for variables such as SEIFA and labour force status, when compared to other ABS surveys. As these variables were considered to have possible association with social characteristics, additional benchmarks were incorporated into the weighting process.

23 The benchmarks used in the calibration of final weights for the 2010 GSS were:
  • number of persons -
      • state by part of state by age by sex; and
      • SEIFA; and
      • state by labour force status.
  • number of households -
      • state by part of state by household composition; and
      • SEIFA.


24 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.

25 The estimates shown in this publication are based on benchmarked person weights. The estimates of equivalised household income contained in tables 3 and 12 are based on benchmarked household weights, but in these tables are applied to individuals.


26 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

27 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 note' in the General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2010 (cat. no. 4159.0). Sampling error is measured for this survey by 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

28 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.

29 To reduce the level and impact of non-response, the following methods were adopted in this survey:
  • Primary Approach Letters (PALs) were posted to households selected in the GSS prior to enumeration
  • 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.

30 Of the dwellings selected in the 2010 GSS, 12% 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.

31 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.

32 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.


33 The estimates in this publication are based on information collected from August to November 2010, 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.


34 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.

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


36 Occupation data are classified according to the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations, First Edition, 2006 (cat. no. 1220.0).

37 Country of birth data are classified according to the Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC) Second Edition, 2008 (cat. no. 1269.0).

38 Area data (Capital city, Balance of state/territory; Remoteness areas) are classified according to the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC), 2006 (cat. no. 1216.0).


39 Volunteer estimates and rates from the 2006 GSS are presented in Table 1 of this publication to provide comparisons over time. While the scope, content and data collection were largely the same for the 2010 and 2006 surveys, the sample design and weighting procedures were not. Some differences have been covered under the Sample design and Weighting, benchmarking and estimation sections.

40 The sample sizes differed between the 2010 and 2006 surveys. In 2010, the number of fully or adequately responding households achieved in the survey was 15,028 compared to approximately 13,375 for the 2006 cycle. The 2010 cycle had a larger initial sample size (19,576 possible dwellings) compared to the 2006 initial sample size (17,700 possible dwellings). In addition, the 2006 GSS experienced higher rates of sample loss because there were more households with no residents in scope for the survey or where dwellings proved to be vacant, under construction or derelict, and a higher rate of survey non-response from eligible households. These differences in the sample size for 2010 and 2006 should be considered when comparing results.

41 For the 2010 cycle, a change in sample design was adopted to obtain more observations of people exhibiting multiple disadvantage, to provide a richer dataset of the characteristics of this subpopulation. The sample design involved using Census 2006 data to target areas with higher concentrations of households experiencing multiple disadvantage. To compensate for over sampling, the weighting process included additional benchmarks. These differences in the sample design for 2010 and 2006 should be considered when comparing results.

42 The voluntary work estimates for 2010 exclude those persons who were compelled to do voluntary work because of employment or study commitments, for example, work for the dole. They therefore differ from the time series voluntary work estimates presented in table 1 of General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2010 (cat. no. 4159.0) which, for time series comparison with 2002, do not exclude these populations and therefore have a higher rate of 'voluntary involvement' results. For more information about changes over time in volunteer estimation and methodology, see the Appendix in Voluntary Work, Australia, 2006 (cat. no. 4441.0).

43 The method used to collect information on the nature of voluntary work undertaken changed in the 2010 survey, affecting comparability with 2006 data. In 2010, respondents were asked to provide, in aggregate, information about their voluntary work for all the organisations they had volunteered for, whereas in the 2006 survey the corresponding information was collected individually for up to three organisations the volunteer had done work for. This difference does not affect volunteering rates and will only affect comparison with 2006 data on the types of organisations volunteered for, and frequency of voluntary work undertaken.

44 A full list of the data items from the 2010 GSS will be contained in the General Social Survey: User Guide (cat. no. 4159.0.55.002). The data item list contains information on the changes in content between the 2006 and 2010 collections. For published results from the 2006 GSS, refer to General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2006 (cat. no. 4159.0).


45 Below is information describing the range of data to be made available from the 2010 GSS, both in published form and on request. Products available on the ABS web site <www.abs.gov.au> are indicated accordingly.

Voluntary Work, Australia, 2010 Data Cubes

46 The tables released in this product are in spreadsheet format, and are available on the ABS web site (cat. no. 4441.0). Estimates, proportions and the related RSEs are presented for each publication table.


47 For users who wish to undertake more detailed analysis of the survey data, including the detailed voluntary work information, microdata from the 2010 GSS will be released in the form of two confidentialised unit record files (CURFs), Microdata: General Social Survey, CURF, Australia, 2010 (cat. no. 4159.0.30.003). The expanded CURF will contain more detail than the basic CURF and will only be available via the Remote Access Data Laboratory (RADL), which is a secure Internet-based data query service. The basic CURF will be available via CD ROM or RADL. Technical information describing the content and use of the basic and expanded GSS CURFs will be available within the GSS User Guide.

General Social Survey: User Guide 2010

48 The GSS User Guide will be released in conjunction with the CURF. 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.

49 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 2010 GSS microdata should refer to the ABS Website <https://www.abs.gov.au> (see Services, ABS Microdata) and read the Microdata Entry Page, and other linked information, before downloading the appropriate Guide, Application, and Undertaking forms and applying for access. University clients should refer to the ABS web site <https://www.abs.gov.au> (see Services, Services for Universities). The GSS basic and expanded CURFs can be accessed by universities participating in the ABS/Universities Australia Agreement for research and teaching purposes.

Data available on request

50 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.


51 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:
  • Aspects of Social Capital, Australia, 2006 (cat. no. 4911.0)
  • Attendance at Selected Cultural Venues and Events, Australia, 2009-10 (cat. no. 4114.0)
  • Australian National Accounts: Non-profit Institutions Satellite Account, 2006-07 (cat. no. 5256.0)
  • General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2010 (cat. no. 4159.0)
  • How Australians Use Their Time, 2006 (cat. no. 4153.0)
  • Involvement in Organised Sport and Physical Activity, Australia, Apr 2010 (cat. no. 6285.0)
  • Measures of Australia's Progress: Summary Indicators, 2011 (cat. no. 1370.0.55.001)