Unemployment and volunteering — previous research revisited


In the following chapter, I shall give an overview of the research which has already been done regarding the interrelation between unemployment and volunteering. By analysing the previous research, I aim at showing from a comparative perspective what we know already about the factors which increase the individual risk of unemployment as well as the factors which increase the chances that a person decides to volunteer. It shall become apparent that similar factors influence both, an unemployed person’s chances of re-employment as well as the likelihood that he or she gets involved in volunteer work.83 In the following part of the chapter, I turn to the central theme of this study: the interrelation between unemployment and volunteering. I follow the transitions from employment to unemployment and back, and report existing findings on the role of volunteering in this process. I start by presenting findings on the effect of unemployment on social networks and volunteering. I then proceed to the opposite causal direction, namely the influence of social networks and volunteering on re-employment chances. Not least, I discuss the possibility of volunteering as an alternative to paid work. I present studies which have discussed the possibility that volunteering contributes to the transition from unemployment to economic inactivity, especially of women. Throughout the chapter, I pay special attention to studies analysing the situation in Germany and Great Britain. This focus is justified by the institutional and cultural differences related to unemployment and volunteering alike, which make it important to understand the phenomena in the social context in which my own study is situated.


Labour Market Civic Engagement Volunteer Work Unemployment Duration Active Labour Market Policy 
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  1. 85.
    The two countries are characterised by different naturalisation policies: While Germany has had a strong orientation towards the ius sanguinis until the legal reform (Staatsangehörigkeitsrecht) in January 2000, Great Britain was characterised by an earlier focus on the ius soli, granting citizenship to the children of a parent who is resident in the UK and holds Indefinite Leave to Remain or Right of Abode (for an overview on the legal regulations of citizenship in the member states of the European Union, see Mester 2000). These legal differences lead to a higher proportion of citizens of the total population, namely 96.2% in Great Britain vs 91.3% in Germany (Eurostat 2000, quoted in Kley 2004: 175). The different traditions of naturalisation are also reflected in the wording of survey questions which ask in Great Britain for ethnical background, in Germany for nationality.Google Scholar
  2. 88.
    Following Granovetter’s (1983) understanding of strong and weak ties (see theory chapter, section 2.2), I shall discuss a person’s family situation under the heading of social networks in the sense of strong ties. It is however acknowledged that the role of a person’s partner and children regarding the question of re-employment exceeds that of weak ties and can be theoretically be better grasped by the concept of linked lives (see theory chapter, section 2.4).Google Scholar
  3. 89.
    Another comparative study has shown that it is not only the family status itself but the partner’s labour market status which makes the difference. Based on the results from studies on ‘workless households’ (see below), the study analyses the labour-force participation of the wives of unemployed men in the sense of their transition from inactivity to employment. McGinnity (2002) traces more specifically the labour market behaviour of couples over time. He finds some evidence for an ‘added-worker effect’ (tendency that the partner of an unemployed person starts working in order to compensate for the loss in household income) in Germany but a disincentive effect of means-tested benefits on partners’ employment in Britain. The author concludes that unemployment benefits which are means-tested against family income generate disincentives to work for the spouse of the unemployed person. In Germany, where unemployment benefit is for the majority of the unemployed an individual benefit, the wives of unemployed men do not experience effects on their labour market participation.Google Scholar
  4. 91.
    More attention has been paid to these factors in psychological studies concerned with effects on well-being. McKee-Ryan et al. (2005) report several findings related to the psychological well-being of the unemployed: Positive self-evaluations such as high self-esteem, optimism, low neuroticism and an internal locus of control were also found to have a positive impact on the unemployed person’s well-being. Moreover, unemployed individuals who were able to impose daily routines on their lives, to remain active, and to use their time in a structured way were found to have better mental health.Google Scholar
  5. 92.
    Another personality factor which has been identified as impacting on re-employment is a high internal locus of control, i.e. a person’s conviction that he can cause by his action intended consequences. Uhlendorff (2004) surprisingly shows that this personality trait leads to better reemployment chances in West but not in East Germany.Google Scholar
  6. 93.
    Uhlendorff (2004) reports again differences between East and West Germany: In his models, geographical mobility is only significant for West Germany. This is especially surprising on the background of the large numbers of East Germans who migrated to West Germany, mostly in order to find a better labour market situation (from 1991 to 2003 over 2 million people migrated from East to West Germany) (Albani, et al. 2006).Google Scholar
  7. 94.
    Apart from the effects on re-employment chances, work-role centrality has also been shown to be associated with a person’s psychological reaction to unemployment: McKee-Ryan (2005) reports work-role centrality to be associated with lower mental health and life satisfaction during unemployment.Google Scholar
  8. 103.
    The smaller clubs are, the higher the members’ willingness to volunteer. Thus, the most common organisation of volunteer work in Germany are small clubs (Zimmer 1996: 108).Google Scholar
  9. 106.
    The study by the British Home Office Citizenship Survey reports the same finding of equal participation rates, but lower participation rates (about 40%) (Attwood, et al. 2003: 81).Google Scholar
  10. 108.
    Similarly, the British National Survey of Volunteering reports that women are three times as likely as men to be involved in volunteering connected with children’s education or school, and are also more likely to be involved with social welfare, elderly people and religion. Men are twice as likely as women to be involved in volunteering connected with sport and exercise, and are also more likely to be involved with hobbies, recreation, the arts and politics. Women are more likely to be involved in raising or handling money and in delivering direct services, while men are more likely to sit on committees, provide transport and represent others (Smith 1998).Google Scholar
  11. 109.
    Moreover, young people spend quite often a considerable number of hours per week for their voluntary engagement: 26% report that they volunteer 6 to 10 hours a week (as compared to 22% of the general population who volunteer between 6 and 10 hours a week) (Picot 2001: 146f.).Google Scholar
  12. 111.
    The authors stress however that this figure is still likely to overestimate the formal voluntary engagement of this group because the data collection via a German telephone interview led to a overrepresentation of well-educated, higher social status migrants (Gensicke, et al. 2005).Google Scholar
  13. 113.
    Several mechanisms have been suggested to explain this effect: Education heightens awareness of problems, increases empathy, and builds self-confidence; better educated people have higher verbal, writing, and social skills, which give them more confidence to reach out to others (Wilson and Musick 1997a). At the same time, all this makes them also more desirable volunteers and thus they are more likely to be asked to volunteer.Google Scholar
  14. 116.
    Rotolo and Wilson (2006b) suggest three reasons why public sector workers are more likely than private sector workers to volunteer: Firstly, public sector employees have different values and motivations for work; they are more likely to be motivated by service-oriented goals, or helping others, they have a stronger sense of social responsibility and belief in social equality. Secondly, to an increasing extent public sector workers are volunteering in order to keep their job. Thirdly, public sector employees are much more likely to encounter volunteers in the course of their work. Daily interactions with volunteers increase the likelihood of starting a volunteer job oneself.Google Scholar
  15. 121.
    According to the German Time Use Study, the highest participation in volunteer work is contributed by single households, a household type which is characterised by a high percentage of retired respondents (StatistischesBundesamt and BMFSFJ 2003).Google Scholar
  16. 124.
    Apart from the already mentioned small group of church-related volunteers in the GDR, the majority of volunteers were engaged in state-organised organisations, such as trade unions (Weßels 1992).Google Scholar
  17. 126.
    This reflects earlier research (Wilson 1987) which has used the term “underclass” to describe the situation of those who are trapped in a situation of poverty not only by their own lack of resources but by the chronic shortage of resources in their networks and communities. Authors from the right of the political spectrum have expressed their fear that the social segregation and over-generous welfare provision lead additionally to a replacement of the work ethic by a dependency culture (Murray 1990). These scholars expect that unemployment, especially long-term unemployment will lead to a withdrawal from social networks. The more recent empirical research gives a more complex picture.Google Scholar
  18. 131.
    There seem to be however inter-country differences on this question: The Canadian National Survey on Giving, Volunteering and Participating reports that nearly a quarter of the volunteers say they are expecting to “make new contacts that might help my business or career”. One third of the Canadian volunteers believe that their civic engagement has provided them with new skills applicable in their paid jobs or business. The types of qualification acquired by volunteering encompass “interpersonal skills”, “communication skills”, increased knowledge of the issues, and “organisational and managerial skills”. In the same study, an even larger share, nearly half the unemployed respondents believed that their civic engagement would help them to find a job (Hall, et al. 2001).Google Scholar
  19. 133.
    The authors report moreover regarding the opposite analytical relation that women in higher status jobs did more volunteer work, but women with higher earnings did less volunteer work (Statham and Rhoton 1986: 26). One could thus assume that volunteering (especially in profession-related areas) is closer related to the occupational status than to the earnings (which vary not only according to the scope of responsibility on the job, but also the industry, a person’s gender, etc.).Google Scholar

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