Volunteering is good for your health

Researchers have used eight waves of data from the British Household Panel Study (BHPS) and Understanding Society to find that volunteering does have a positive impact on our health and wellbeing.

The EU-sponsored project, Impact of the Third Sector as Social Innovation used over 800,000 survey responses from over 150,000 different respondents to inform its report, Welfare impacts of participation.

The analysis examined associations between volunteering and subjective health, subjective well-being, career outcomes and social relations in six panel surveys from the period 1984-2011, covering 15 countries.

UK data was supplied by Understanding Society and the BHPS Survey and these analyses included over 100,000 observations from 20,000+ participants from eight waves.

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Health, wellbeing and social relations improve after volunteering

One of the researchers on the project, Arjen de Wit comments, “We found robust positive associations between changes in volunteering and changes in self-perceived health, subjective wellbeing and social relations; they improve among citizens in Europe after they start volunteering and continue to do so.

“On average, the increase in subjective health and subjective wellbeing benefit due to changes in volunteering is about 1%. The impact on career outcomes is less clear,” he says.

Key findings

  • Subjective well-being increases among citizens who start volunteering more strongly than among citizens who remain non-volunteers.
  • People who quit volunteering experience a larger decline in health than the other three groups in all the datasets.
  • The results find quite robustly positive associations between changes in volunteering and changes in subjective health, subjective well-being and social relations.

Why was Understanding Society used?

Understanding Society has a nationally representative sample which features households in Great Britain, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and has questions on a wide range of socio-economic issues including volunteering and hobbies.

The report was able to use the following survey questions in its analysis:

  • How dissatisfied or satisfied are you with your life overall?
  • Did you do any paid work last week – either as an employee or self-employed?

What does this mean for policy?

Arjen said, “Participation in voluntary activities does enhance people’s welfare, but we should not expect miracles from participation in third sector activities. Besides focusing on volunteer management, policy makers should facilitate the output of voluntary activities since third sector organizations might contribute to the innovativeness and welfare of society as a whole.”

“Processes of causation could have clear public policy implications. If volunteering pays off in terms of wellbeing, it could be wise to examine strategies that enhance volunteer activities,” says Arjen.

For policy enquires relating to Understanding Society, please contact Raj Patel

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