October 1, 2004 | Publications

Investigator Issue #1: Data Sets on Volunteerism: A Research Primer

Authors: Mark Pocock


The information below is a supplement to the first issue of the Investigator series.

Information on Selected Data Sets on Volunteerism

The volunteerism data sets identified for this article are inherently different. Three areas in which these volunteerism data sets differ are definition, detail and survey design. Some surveys define volunteering as any unpaid work for an organization, while others consider both "formal" such as serving as a volunteer for an organization, and "informal" helping, such as caring for a loved one, within their definition of volunteering. Some typical details include: the type of activity and organization; the amount of time spent volunteering; reasons for volunteering; and factors that would encourage service. Likewise, different survey designs illicit different responses. Volunteering questions often ask participants to recall service activities over varying spans of time, some speak directly to the person about his/her volunteer experiences, while still others ask the respondent to report on the behaviors of family members as well as themselves. This document will make researchers aware of some current data sets about volunteering, evaluate their differences, and provide a link to gather more information.

The description for each data set includes:

  1. Brief summary of the data,

  2. Sources for further information about the data, and

  3. Citations of scholarly work that use the data.

Giving and Volunteering in the United States

Question topics include: income tax and itemizing, religious affiliation, employment status, occupation, estimated salary per hour, volunteering, and charitable contributions.

The IS survey is perhaps the most detailed survey on both volunteerism and philanthropy. However, survey questions are worded differently in year 2001 than in previous years, thus it is difficult to compare responses across all time periods.


  • Independent Sector, http://www.independentsector.org , Accessed May 27, 2004.

  • Giving and Volunteering in the United States, documentation (for various years).

  • Segal, Lewis M., & Weisbrod, Burton A. (2002). Volunteer Labor Sorting Across Industries. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 21(3), 427-447.

Current Population Survey

The survey contains detailed information on employment and unemployment of persons age 16 and above. Some variables in the survey are: hours worked, wage, family income, and occupation.

The CPS is a very large sample and accessing the data and documentation is relatively easy. The National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER) compiles documentation, raw data files, and files for reading in the data via SAS, SPSS, and Stata statistical programs. These files are available at the NBER website. However, volunteering questions in April 1974 are not comparable with later years. Statistical program codes by NBER are not available for all of April 1974, May 1989, or the supplement part for August 2002. August 2002 supplement surveys only outgoing rotation groups. Thus, only 1/4 of the August 2002 sample has information on volunteering which are roughly 40,000 observations.


  • Current Population Survey (CPS) Supplements at the NBER. http://www.nber.org/data/cps.html , Accessed May 27, 2004.

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. (1974). Current Population Survey, April 1974: Volunteer Workers. http://www.nber.org/data/cps.html , Accessed May 27, 2004.

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. (1989). Current Population Survey, May 1989: Multiple Job Holding, Flextime, and Volunteer Work. http://www.nber.org/data/cps.html , Accessed May 27, 2004.

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2002). Current Population Survey, August 2002: Public Participation in the Arts Supplement File. http://www.nber.org/data/cps.html , Accessed May 27, 2004.

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2002). Current Population Survey, September 2002: Volunteer Supplement File. http://www.nber.org/data/cps.html , Accessed May 27, 2004.

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2002). Technical Paper 63RV: Current Population Survey - Design and Methodology. http://www.bls.census.gov/cps/tp/tp63.htm , Accessed May 27, 2004.

  • Boraas, Stephanie. (2003). Volunteerism in the United States. Monthly Labor Review, August, 3-11.

  • Freeman, Richard B. (1997). Working for Nothing: The Supply of Volunteer Labor. Journal of Labor Economics, 15(1), S140-S166.

National Longitudinal Surveys

These surveys are conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many of the cohorts have been interviewed continuously for over 30 years.

The surveys allow researchers to study the influence of volunteering on the volunteer because the surveys follow the same individual over time. The data are easy to manipulate by using the NLS Database Investigator - a software program available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some of the NLS content is: work and non-work experiences, training investments, health conditions, and family assets and income.

Some of the NLS supplemental content is: alcohol records, aptitude, and intelligence scores, attitudes, aspirations, and psychological well-being, volunteer and leisure-time activities, alcohol, cigarette, and substance use, delinquent and criminal activities and arrest records, household chores, child care, and care of ill and disabled persons.


  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://www.bls.gov/nls/, Accessed May 27, 2004.

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2003). NLS Handbook: 2003.

American Citizen Participation Study


  • Verba, Sidney, Kay Lehman Schlozman, Henry E. Brady, and Norman Nie. American Citizen Participation Study, 1990 [Computer file]. ICPSR version. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, National Opinion Research Center (NORC) [producer], 1995. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 1995.

  • Verba, Sidney, Kay Lehman Schlozman, and Henry E. Brady. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

  • Brady, Henry E., Sidney Verba, and Kay Lehman Schlozman. Beyond SES: A Resource Model of Political Participation. American Political Science Review. 89 (1995), p. 271-294.

  • Schlozman, Kay Lehman, Sidney Verba, and Henry E. Brady. Participation's Not a Paradox: The View from American Activists. British Journal of Political Science. 25 (1995), p. 1-36.

Americans' Changing Lives

The survey was conducted in 1986, 1989, and 1994, and for the most part, interviewed the same individuals.


  • House, James S. Americans' Changing Lives: Waves I, II, and III, 1986, 1989, and 1994 [Computer file]. ICPSR version. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research, Survey Research Center [producer], 2002. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2003.

  • Musick, Marc A. & Wilson, John & Bynum, William B. Jr. (2000). Race and Formal Volunteering: The Differential Effects of Class and Religion. Social Forces, 78(4), 1539-1570.

  • Wilson, John & Musick, Marc A. (1997). Work and Volunteering: The Long Arm of the Job. Social Forces, 76(1), 251-272.

National Survey of Families and Households

The survey contains information about the relationship of the respondent with other household members and with others in society. Attitudes, activities, and other well-begin measures are included. In the survey, volunteering is defined as caring.


American Time Use Survey

Since the ATUS respondents are also in the CPS, all of the variables in the CPS are available in the ATUS, unless an individual is new in the household. Individuals complete a time diary over the phone for the previous day. The sequential diary begins at 4 AM and ends at 4 AM of the interview day. Time activities are recorded in 3 tiers of detail. The first-tier of time use activities include: Caring For and Helping Household Members, Caring For and Helping Non-household Members, and Volunteer Activities. Some of the second and third tier time use activities under Volunteer Activities include: providing care, food preparation, presentation, clean-up, reading, and fundraising.

For a given year, a pooled sample has about 13,000 observations. The first wave of ATUS data is available late 2004. The survey does not contain information about the type of organization a respondent volunteers for. Time use activities under volunteering do not appear to identify between activities for public vs. non-public or profit vs. non-profit organizations.


  • American Time Use Survey Home Page. http://www.bls.gov/tus/home.htm, Accessed May 27, 2004.

  • Stinson, L. (1999). Measuring How People Spend their Time: A Time-use Survey Design. Monthly Labor Reviewhttp://www.bls.gov/tus/home.htm , Accessed May 27, 2004.

  • Hamermesh, D., Frazis, H. and Stewart, J. (2005). Data Watch -- The American Time Use Survey. Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Panel Survey of Income Dynamics

The Panel Survey of Income Dynamics (PSID) is a near biannual survey of about 8,000 households. Philanthropy and volunteer questions are included in 2001 and 2003 modules and refer to the types or volunteering organization. Questions are asked of household heads. This survey is conducted by the Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan. The philanthropy and volunteering module is supported by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University.

The survey follows the same households over time and has other detailed information about the households. Some families and individuals have been followed for over 30 years.


Some other data sources with questions on volunteerism

(Unless noted otherwise, all sites below have been accessed as of May 27, 2004.)