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Understanding Volunteering: A Quantitative Analysis of Urban/Rural Differences in Participation. Alasdair Rutherford Helen Harper University of Stirling Volunteer Development Scotland. Thanks to AQMeN and Volunteer Development Scotland for funding this project.

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understanding volunteering a quantitative analysis of urban rural differences in participation

Understanding Volunteering:A Quantitative Analysis of Urban/Rural Differences in Participation

Alasdair Rutherford Helen HarperUniversity of Stirling Volunteer Development Scotland

Thanks to AQMeN and Volunteer Development Scotland for funding this project.

Thanks to the Scottish Government for supplying the data and matching.

Thanks also to Marta Odendal, Sian O’Hare and Peter Hughes for research assistance at different stages of the project.

  • Public policy
  • Participation across space
  • Develop quantitative methods capacity
  • The recession has focussed policy makers’ attention on the role of voluntary and civic participation in the provision of public services.
  • This policy shift towards a co-production agenda assumes that levels of volunteering and its distribution in all localities can meet this demand now and in the future.
  • One of the aims of the AQMeN project was to develop the capacity of a voluntary sector organisation to undertake analysis of quantitative data.
what is a volunteer
What is a volunteer?

Informal helping

Formal volunteering

Care for family

Informal volunteering

Compulsory volunteering


volunteering participation
Volunteering Participation
  • Motivations
  • Opportunity
  • Varies across spaceDifference in character, not just quantity
  • Altruism, ‘warm glow’, increase human capital, increase social capital, involuntary
  • Depends on human capital, social capital, life stage, social networks
  • Large urban/rural differences. Usually attributed to differences in socio-economic characteristics of local populations, differences in social capitalRural volunteering is broad, with more people contributing across multiple organisations, but for few hours per week. Urban volunteering is deep, with fewer individuals working with fewer organisations but with a greater time commitment per week. Trimbell (2006)
measuring volunteering
Measuring Volunteering
  • There are big variations in survey estimates of voluntary participation depending on question wording.
  • The SHS has a reliable and consistent two-stage question, which provides a good measure of formal volunteering (within the context of an organisation, association or group).
data merging
Data Merging
  • Datazones
  • Local Area Data drawn from a variety of sources
  • Merge
  • Data zones are groups of Census output areas, covering the whole of Scotland and nested within local authority boundaries, which have populations of between 500 and 1,000 household residents. There are 6,505 data zones across Scotland.
  • Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics, Census data, population estimates, business data
  • The merge was carried out by the SHS team at the Scottish Government to preserve anonymity of respondents
estimating volunteering participation
Estimating Volunteering Participation
  • The individual’s propensity to participate will be a function of the individual, household, and local area characteristics:
  • We observe through survey questions a binary variable:
  • We can therefore estimate a binary logistic regression:
results volunteering participation
RESULTS: Volunteering Participation
  • Socio-economic Characteristics
  • Urban/Rural
  • Local Area Data
  • Urban/Rural
  • Women are more likely to volunteer; little variation across the age categories; education is a significant predictor of volunteering
  • Participation constant for small towns, but increases with remoteness and rurality
  • Individuals living in areas that have higher levels of health and education are more likely to volunteer. Greater deprivation levels increase the probability of volunteering.
  • Rural difference is reduced but not eliminated by inclusion of local area characteristics.
results hours of volunteering per month
RESULTS: Hours of Volunteering per Month
  • Individual
  • Household
  • Local Area
  • Women volunteer just under 1.5 fewer hours per month; age has little effect on volunteering hours until post-retirement age; there is no significant effect of income, although individuals outside the labour market are likely to volunteer longer hours.
  • Having children significantly reduces the number of hours spent volunteering by around 2 hours per month.
  • There is no urban/rural difference even before controlling for local area characteristics. Local characteristics similarly have little effect.
findings individual household
Findings: Individual & Household
  • Individual characteristics such as gender, age, and education are somewhat important in determining volunteering participation.
  • Household characteristics such as relationship status and number of children also have a significant effect.
  • The characteristics of the neighbourhoods in which people live then have a further impact on the participation, frequency and intensity of volunteering.
findings urban rural
Findings: Urban/Rural
  • Volunteering participation is significantly higher in rural Scotland than urban areas. Those in the most remote rural areas have even higher participation still. This effect is slightly reduced by controlling for local area characteristics.
  • There is neither an urban/rural difference in the number of hours spent volunteering .
  • The significant difference between urban and rural areas lies in the decision to participate, rather than in the level of participation.
  • Are there differences in the nature of that participation?
policy implications
Policy Implications
  • Potential for “big society”
  • Caution …
  • Social capital
  • These findings suggest that there may be potential for increased voluntary activity in urban areas, as individuals with similar characteristics are currently less likely to participate if they live in a more urban area.
  • However, there are some cautionary notes. The potential lies in increased individual participation rather than increased intensity by existing volunteers. The demand side is important: namely, the types of activities and opportunities that are offered by organisations.
  • Social capital is still an important determinant of volunteering supply and is relatively persistent. Despite the great policy interest in volunteering over the past thirty years, volunteering participation has held fairly steady.
  • Role for policy?One the one hand,
  • On the other,
  • Policies to increase voluntary participation in public service provision are likely to be more successful in some areas than others.
  • Communities with existing higher levels of participations may be better equipped to absorb additional voluntary roles, as the social connections and support structures are already in place.
  • These communities may already be at capacity, with available volunteers unable to take on any more responsibility for public service provision.
  • More urban communities may have untapped potential but weaker networks, while more rural communities have better connections but risk overloading individuals.
thank you for listening


Alasdair Rutherford Helen HarperUniversity of Stirling Volunteer Development Scotland

first stage
First stage
  • Respondents are first asked:
  • “The next set of questions are about the kinds of things that some people do to give up their time, without pay, to help people or for the benefit of their neighbourhood or a wider area, and either through organisations or acting as individuals.
  • Thinking back over the last 12 months, have you given up any time to help any clubs, charities, campaigns or organisations. I mean in an unpaid capacity”
  • Scottish Household Survey Questionnaire
second stage
Second Stage
  • Respondents who answer ‘no’ are then presented with a list of types of organisation or group, and are asked:
  • “We often find that people forget about some of the things they have done because they only do them occasionally or wouldn't normally think of it as helping people or their community. Have you undertaken any work or activities on a voluntary basis for any of these types of groups or organisations at any time in the past 12 months?
  • Code all that apply. Probe fully. Any others? Any others?”
  • Scottish Household Survey Questionnaire