Volunteering linked with substantial increase in lifetime earnings

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Helping more women to volunteer could be the key to narrowing the gender earnings gap, says a new report using BHPS.

The report, Does It Pay to Work for Free? Wage Returns and Gender Differences in the Market for Volunteers by Robert M Sauer and Noemi Mantovan, suggests that bringing more women into volunteering roles could have an especially large pay-off for both individual and society.

The researchers also suggest that reducing the cost of volunteering relatively more for women would also help narrow the gender earnings gap.

The findings will be of interest to policy makers, the researchers suggest, specifically the Conservatives whose Big Society initiative recognizes the value of volunteering activities.

Posing the question: ‘When you work for free to help others in society, does it also increase your own future earnings?’ The results suggested that volunteers could indeed expect to earn more, with ‘substantial’ salary increases over a lifetime.

However, the gender gap still makes itself felt, with volunteering providing larger wage returns to men than women.

The report found that:

  • For those with volunteer experience, the rise in average annual wages varies between 64 and 94 per cent for men but only 42 and 88 per cent for women.
  • Men benefit up to 22 per cent more from having volunteer experience than women.

In searching for the source of these lower wage returns for women, the researchers failed to find substantial gender differences in the types of chosen volunteer organizations, activities, motivations or sources of volunteering satisfaction, increasing the plausibility that there is an ‘element of gender discrimination’ in the market for volunteers.

The high price of childcare was also cited as a possible barrier to women volunteering, with around 50 per cent claiming that they need to care for their children or home instead. Lowering childcare costs, it was suggested, could be one way to increase the number of individuals engaged in volunteering, with more high-skilled individuals working for free as a result.

Robert M Sauer commented:

“A lower cost of volunteering would have an especially large pay-off for both individual and society. And reducing the cost of volunteering relatively more for women would also help narrow the gender earnings gap.”

“So policymakers are indeed well advised to vigorously encourage volunteer work, not just for the benefit of the less fortunate, but also for the volunteer’s own future purchasing power.”

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this news has been re-posted from the Understanding Society website