Determinants of participation in voluntary work: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal cohort studies

Jacobien Niebuur, Lidy van Lente, Aart C. Liefbroer, Nardi Steverink, Nynke Smidt

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Participation in voluntary work may be associated with individual and societal benefits. Because of these benefits and as a result of challenges faced by governments related to population ageing, voluntary work becomes more important for society, and policy measures are aimed at increasing participation rates. In order to effectively identify potential volunteers, insight in the determinants of volunteering is needed. Therefore, we conducted a systematic review including meta-analyses.

METHODS: A systematic search in MEDLINE, PsycINFO, SocINDEX, Business Source Premier, and EconLit was performed on August 12th 2015. We included longitudinal cohort studies conducted in developed countries that quantified factors associated with volunteering among samples from the general adult population. Two reviewers independently selected eligible studies, extracted the data and assessed the risk of bias of the included studies using the QUIPS tool. Estimates reported in the papers were transformed into Odds Ratios and 95% Confidence Intervals. For each determinant, random-effects meta-analyses were used to generate summary estimates.

RESULTS: We found that socioeconomic status, being married, social network size, church attendance and previous volunteer experiences are positively associated with volunteering. Age, functional limitations and transitions into parenthood were found to be inversely related to volunteering.

CONCLUSIONS: Important key factors have been identified as well as gaps in the current literature. Future research should be directed towards deepening the knowledge on the associations between the factors age, education, income, employment and participation in voluntary work. Moreover, major life course transitions should be studied in relation to volunteering.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1213
Number of pages30
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2018


This study was funded by a crowd funding campaign performed by the Ubbo Emmius Fonds Groningen, which transferred the proceeds as a gift to the University of Groningen. The funders had no role in study design, data collection, analysis and interpretation and writing the manuscript.

FundersFunder number
Ubbo Emmius Fonds Groningen
National Institute on AgingU19AG051426


    • Determinants
    • Factors
    • General population
    • Meta-analysis
    • Participation
    • Review
    • Social participation
    • Unpaid work
    • Volunteers


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