Time use surveys and volunteering

I’ve been reading up on the available (UK) time use data on volunteering and found a short technical paper produced by Kimberley Fisher from the Centre for Time Use Research.  The paper’s interesting in its own right, but here’s what made me smile…  Many time use studies allow participants to record a main and a secondary activity: for example, I could be preparing food for my family and simultaneously cooking for a cake stall for church.  The paper itself is a lovely example of main and secondary activities.  Its main purpose is to provide time use data on volunteering to the Cabinet Office.  The secondary activity is to persuade the Cabinet Office that funding new time use studies is a good idea.  In a section of “methodological observations” Fisher notes: “Time diaries offer particular value for money. Diaries have higher administration costs than questionnaire surveys, but daily activity schedules inform a wide range of policy areas, including transport, physical activity, energy and resource use, total economic activity (paid and unpaid), work-life balance, parenting, eating and drinking behaviours, and quality of life. One time-use survey can address more areas than comparable funding on a series of questionnaire surveys.”  Fisher does concede that relatively rare activities like volunteering are harder to capture in diaries than in standard surveys (for “harder” read “more expensive”) but not until later in the paper!

The other thing that stood out to me was that this is yet another data source which suggests that rates and levels of volunteering have been pretty constant over time (since the mid 1970s in this case).  Can anyone do anything to change that?  This brings me to another paper that caught my eye today…  Beyerlein and Sikkink (2008), quoted in Fisher (2012) look at volunteering to help the victims of the 9/11 attacks in the US.  Those most likely to volunteer lived close to the World Trade Centre, knew a victim, experienced sorrow and were previous volunteers.  So, from the base of volunteers, being personally touched by the troubles of others made people more likely to volunteer.  But was it just displacing existing voluntary work…?  To answer that one, we’d need to go back in time and talk someone into funding a longitudinal study.

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