The Voluntary Work module in the 2006 General Social Survey (GSS) estimated that about one in three Australian adults were volunteers, while the 2006 Census of Population and Housing reported one in five adults as being volunteers. This paper investigates the nature of the differences in measuring voluntary work between these two collections to explain differences in the voluntary work rates. It also uses Census and GSS data to identify characteristics associated with being more likely to volunteer.
This paper has found that the personal interview approach of the GSS provides a better quality estimate of the rate of volunteering compared with the single question in the Census. This is due to a number of reasons: the person answers on behalf of themselves and thus should know whether they volunteer; the detailed questions in the GSS are designed to elicit an accurate response; and the survey also allows for prompting and clarification by the interviewer which cannot be done in a self-completed Census form.
Using descriptive and multivariate statistical techniques to address the second objective, the paper compares a wide range of social and demographic characteristics of adults living in Australia. It finds that adults with the following characteristics are more likely to volunteer:
- Adults living in a family with a co-resident dependent child;
- Adults with a higher level of educational attainment; and
- Adults proficient in English.
Both collections were consistent in the direction of effects on volunteering for a broad set of socio-demographic variables. However, differences in the strength of these effects were observed of around 1.5 to 2 times, with the rates of volunteering higher in the GSS. The largest differences were found for proficiency in spoken English, family composition and highest level of educational attainment. The GSS provides a better quality estimate of the rate of volunteering, however analysis in this paper shows the Census can be used to understand differences between geographical areas, including for small areas. Although the absolute level of volunteering will be understated in the Census, differences between areas can still be observed.