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February 1991, Vol. 114, No. 2
Howard V. Hayghe
E very year, millions of Americans give their time, talents, and skills, without pay, to a wide variety of organizations and institutions. Under the auspices of schools, hospitals, churches, and so forth, these volunteers perform many different tasks, such as assisting the elderly or disabled, coaching children's athletics, helping with church or school activities, or providing staff assistance for political or other organizations.
Who are these volunteers? Where, or for whom, do they perform volunteer work? How much time do they spend at these unpaid activities? Some answers to these questions are available from data obtained from supplementary questions included in the May 1989 Current Population Survey.1 This article reports on the findings from the survey and compares them to findings from earlier surveys on the same subject, providing a historical perspective on the phenomenon of volunteer activity.
About 38 million people were reported as having volunteered for work without pay for an institution or organization at some time during the year ended in May 1989.2 This represented about 1 out of every 5 persons in the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years old and over. The incidence of voluntarism varied considerably by a number of demographic and economic characteristics. For instance, persons in the 35- to 44-year-old age group were more likely than those younger or older to have done some volunteer work. Whites were more likely than blacks or Hispanics to report volunteer work. And, college graduates were more likely to contribute their time and skills as volunteers than persons with fewer years of schooling. (See table 1.)
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1 The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly sample survey conducted by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The sample includes about 60,000 households that are scientifically selected to represent the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years old and over in the 50 States and the District of Columbia. Information is collected on more than 150,000 persons living in these households. a detailed description of this survey appears in Concepts and Methods Used in Labor Force Statistics Derived from the Current Population Survey, BLS Report 463.
2 For purposes of this study, volunteers are defined as persons who did unpaid work for organizations such as schools, hospitals, and civic organizations. Not included are persons whose unpaid work was done in connection with a family business or farm. Volunteer work is not considered to be employment for the purpose of labor force measurement.
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