The Role of Voluntarism in Providing Collective Goods For Household Production

Lynette S. Unger, Miami University
ABSTRACT - Collective goods and services provided by voluntary organizations are often used in household production activities. While there are many reasons for volunteering, there is evidence that provision of collective goods is a strong incentive. This study tested the effect of household socioeconomic status, number of children in the household and perceived community need on the number of hours volunteered to collective organizations. Based on a sample (n = 326) from a Midwestern metropolitan area, SES and perceived community need were found to be related to voluntarism while number of children was not.
[ to cite ]:
Lynette S. Unger (1985) ,"The Role of Voluntarism in Providing Collective Goods For Household Production", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, eds. Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Moris B. Holbrook, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 195-199.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, 1985      Pages 195-199

THE ROLE OF VOLUNTARISM IN PROVIDING COLLECTIVE GOODS FOR HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTION

Lynette S. Unger, Miami University

ABSTRACT -

Collective goods and services provided by voluntary organizations are often used in household production activities. While there are many reasons for volunteering, there is evidence that provision of collective goods is a strong incentive. This study tested the effect of household socioeconomic status, number of children in the household and perceived community need on the number of hours volunteered to collective organizations. Based on a sample (n = 326) from a Midwestern metropolitan area, SES and perceived community need were found to be related to voluntarism while number of children was not.

BACKGROUND

Becker's (1965) household production model, refined by others, suggests that households produce as well as consume. The household obtains goods and services and combines them with time to produce "commodities" which provide utility. The goods and services needed for household production are acquired through market purchase, other household production activities, public goods provided by government or collective goods obtained through voluntary organizations (Becker 1965). The latter is the focus of this paper. The voluntary organization combines labor and capital services (donations), which it acquires free or below market rate, to produce a good or service. The good or service is generally characteristic of a public or collective good. Such goods are usually provided by government or collective organizations and are peculiar in that, if one person consumes the good, it cannot be withheld from others, even though they might be 'free-riding" (not contributing to its production).

The economic value of voluntary activity in the U.S. is well-documented. According to Kotler (1982, p. 413), between 50 and 70 million Americans annually serve as volunteers for some 40,000 nonprofit organizations. The value of this volunteer time was estimated at $65 billion in 1982 (Volunteer 1984). The importance of voluntarism and the widespread use of collective goods in household production point to a need to study the variables which affect voluntary activity.

COLLECTIVE GOOD CONSUMPTION AS A MOTIVATION FOR VOLUNTEERING

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, voluntarism is equated with 'good works," whose only reward Is intrinsic to the altruistic act itself (Gidron 1976). However, the literature clearly recognizes that volunteers are motivated by a variety of reasons, both altruistic and self-serving (Henderson 1981; Jenner 1981; Paulhus, Shaffer and Downing 1977). The motivation underlying voluntarism appears to vary with the type of organization (Jenner 1981), by the demographic characteristics of the volunteer (Wiehe and Isenhour 1977) and by length of volunteer tenure. Wiehe and Isenhour (1977) proposed and empirically substantiated four categories of reasons for volunteering: altruistic (to help others or promote a selfless cause); social pressure (to respond to peer pressure, a sense of social duty, or a need to reciprocate); personal (to enjoy social contact, recognition, fun, escape, achievement) and economic (to provide collective goods needed by the family unit or to provide experience which builds human capital).

There is theoretical and empirical evidence which indicates that volunteers are often motivated by the need for a particular collective good. Mueller (1975) cited collective good consumption as one of several forms of 'payment" volunteers receive. Schram and Dunsing (1981) discuss the return/cost relationship in volunteer work which implies provision of a collective good. In studies of volunteer participation across a variety of service organizations, one of the most frequently mentioned reasons for volunteering is having a child in the program (ACTION 1975). Studies of blood donorship show that ensuring future supply for family members is a salient motivation (Oborne and Bradley 1975). Other examples of such collective goods used in household production might include church or charity work to maintain community life quality or child care or service cooperatives.

In his book The Logic of Collective Action, Olson (1973) maintains that participation in collective organizations is counter to the Interests of their individual members, and that individuals will not rationally join together to pursue a common interest. In large groups, all receive the collective good, vet no single member's efforts affect production. If an individual member chooses to free-ride, no one else is significantly affected; so there is no incentive to contribute. To gain cooperation, members muse be coerced or must receive "selective incentives," (services or intangibles separate from the collective good which are withheld from chose who do not contribute). In smaller groups where individual members get a larger fraction of the total good, an individual could shoulder the entire cost of providing the good, so long as it is less than the benefit enjoyed.

Predictors of Voluntarism for Collective Organizations

The household level of analysis is utilized in this study. The dependent variables are the presence and extent of household voluntarism to organizations providing collective goods. Socioeconomic status and need for the collective good are hypothesized to be positively related to household voluntarism.

Socioeconomic Status

The documented direct relationship between individual volunteer activity and socioeconomic status (ACTION 1975; Tomeh 1973; 1981) supports the notion of voluntarism as a collective activity. However, more recent interdisciplinary work indicates no significant relationship (Mueller 1975; Schram and Dunsing 1981). The economic literature demonstrates that income is positively related to philanthropic activity in general (Becker 1974; Reece 1979). Intuitively, it would appear that one's own level of consumption would take precedence over the consumption level of others, and higher income levels would encourage tax deductible activities such as charitable giving or volunteering. Mueller (1975) hypothesized that volunteers have a relatively high income because commodities which demand volunteer input are income elastic. Also, research on female voluntarism indicates that a wife's volunteer work may offer a tax break over market work if she is considered the marginal worker and that it may offer more prestige (a selective incentive) than market work commensurate with her ability (Schram and Dunsing 1981). Socioeconomic status (SES) will be operationalized as an index, combining household income, occupation(s) and education(s) of head(s) of household.

Need for the Collective Good

Household need for a collective good would be a relevant variable in smaller organizations, which often furnish collective good inputs to household production. Collective action theory (Olson 1973) suggests that a stronger group member in a small collective organization might pay a larger share of the cost of the good, depending on the size of the group and the benefits to be gained. The number of children in the household might serve as an indicator of need for certain collective goods (e.g. soccer teams or Girl Scouts) on the individual household level (Mueller 1975; Schram and Dunsing 1981). Moreover, the presence of children may further encourage household members to volunteer for collective organizations which are not specifically child-oriented but which improve life quality in general (e.g. hospitals, civic organizations).

Community need might also predict propensity to volunteer, since high need would suggest greater demand for voluntary services to maintain quality of life, a collective good. Literature on voluntarism indirectly supports this notion, since residence in smaller cities and towns, where fewer market and public goods are available to fulfill household needs, is positively related to voluntarism in collective organizations (Mueller 1975). Schram and Dunsing (1981) also found length of residence in the community and present home to be directly related to volunteer activity. Long-term residents may perceive themselves as having a greater stake in community life quality and may consequently be more willing to participate actively in collective groups.

The economic literature on philanthropy in general provides more indirect evidence that community need might stimulate more voluntary activity. According to Reece (1978; p. 142), "Philanthropic behavior...has been rationalized in the economic literature by the hypothesis that individuals' preferences are defined over levels of consumption of unrelated persons as well as levels of their own consumption.' The "utility interdependence hypothesis" (Becker 1974) suggests that "the individual's optimal level of contribution varies directly with his income and inversely with the price of contributions and the level of consumption of others in the absence of contributions" (Reece, p. 142).

Support for the utility interdependence hypothesis has been mixed. Schwartz (1970) operationalized the level of consumption of others as per capita non-donor income, and found it to be negatively related to charitable donations. Hochman and Rodgers (1973) found dispersion of income within the metropolitan area to be positively related to charitable giving, as hypothesized. Reece (1979) used an estimate of lower quintile income and public assistance payments for the SMSA to represent level of consumption by others. While these variables were negatively related to charitable donations, directionally supporting the hypothesis, the relationship was not significant.

Translated to the special case of voluntarism, this would suggest that amount of voluntary activity would be directly related to community need. Need might be defined as actual need as in the economic literature, or as perceived need. The latter is used here, since estimation of the actual need of the various communities within the single metro area is difficult to assess, and since perceived need seems more likely to influence behavior on an individual household level.

HYPOTHESES

Based on the literature summarized above, the following hypotheses were tested:

H1: The presence or extent of household voluntary activity in organizations providing collective goods is directly related to socioeconomic status.

H2: The presence or extent of household voluntary activity in organizations providing collective goods is directly related to individual household need for the good.

H3: The presence or extent of household voluntary activity in organizations providing collective goods is directly related to perceived community need in general.

METHODOLOGY

Over 1100 phone numbers from the Cincinnati metropolitan area were randomly sampled from phonebook listings. Some 326 respondents (29%) agreed to participate in the phone survey. Non-respondents did not differ from respondents in terms of gender or location. Compared to Cincinnati population demographics, the sample was more heavily female and white and was skewed slightly older. A sample description is shown in Exhibit 1. Subjects were asked to provide information on the types of organizations for which they volunteered, the types of duties performed and the average number of hours per month they worked. This information was used to operationalize the dependent variables for all three hypotheses: whether or not the household members volunteered for collective organizations (presence of voluntary activity) and the average number of hours per month the household members volunteered for collective organizations (extent of voluntary activity). Both presence and extent of voluntary activity are used, following Schram and Dunsing (1981). For all three hypotheses, discriminant analysis was used to test the impact of the variables on the presence of voluntarism and regression analysis was used to test their effect on extent of voluntarism. A summary of respondents' volunteer activities is shown in Exhibit 2.

EXHIBIT 1

DEMOGRAPHIC DESCRIPTION OF SAMPLE

To test the first hypothesis, a socioeconomic status index was calculated for each responding household. Total household income, average educational attainment level of the two household heads and average occupational status level of the two household heads were operationalized categorically on a 1 to 5 scale and were weighted equally to calculate the index. Where income information was not provided (in 17% of cases), only the other two indicators were used. The procedure for calculating SES follows that used by the U.S. Bureau of Census (1963). A summary of this index is found in Exhibit 3. For the second hypothesis, the independent variable was number of children in the household. This ranged from O to 6, with the median at 1. To test the third hypothesis, perceived community need was operationalized using two statements to which respondents indicated amount of agreement on a ten-point scale (10 = strongly agree):

My community needs more volunteers than other communities do.

If more people volunteered, my community would be a better place to live.

The response on the two items for each respondent would be directly related to voluntary activity to support the third hypothesis.

EXHIBIT 2

VOLUNTARY ORGANIZATIONS AND FREQUENCIES

EXHIBIT 3

SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS OF SAMPLE

RESULTS

The results of the regression and discriminant analyses used to test all three hypotheses are shown in Exhibits 4 and 5. In the regression equation, the first and third hypotheses were only marginally supported while the second was not. Socioeconomic status was directly related (p = .08) to number of hours volunteered per month by household, as was one of the perceived need statements, ' My community needs more volunteers than other communities do" (p = .08). The other two variables in the equation, number of children in the household and perceived need measured by the statement "If more people volunteered, my community would be a better place to live," were not significantly related to hours volunteered.

The discriminant analysis grouped respondents as either volunteers (.5 or more hours volunteered per month by household members) or nonvolunteers (no time volunteered). The predictor variables which best classified respondents were household socioeconomic status and the perceived need item "If more people volunteered ..." The number of children and the other perceived need item were less useful. Some 63% of the cases were correctly classified, based on the discriminant function.

CONCLUSIONS

The results indicated that socioeconomic status and perceived need were directly related to number of hours volunteered by household, although the relationships were only marginally significant. The SES relationship generally supports the literature, since the three components used to calculate the index in this study (household income, educational attainment and occupational status) have each been found to be directly related to volunteering (Tomeh 1973; 1981). However, this study contributes further to the literature on voluntarism since it uses a composite index rather than the disaggregated income, education or occupation data used in other studies and since it focuses on the household rather than individual level of analysis, which would seem more appropriate in the case of provision of collective goods.

EXHIBIT 4

RESULTS OF REGRESSION ANALYSIS

EXHIBIT 5

RESULTS OF DISCRIMINANT ANALYSIS

The second significant finding, that perceived community need is related to voluntarism, supports in part the utility interdependence hypothesis (Becker 1974): that, the lower the consumption of others in the community, the greater the amount of voluntarism. Empirical evidence in the economic literature has been based solely on actual community need (generally operationalized in terms of income levels). Consequently the findings in this study suggest that more investigation into volunteers', or more generally, philanthropists' perceptions of community need might be warranted.

Hypothesis two was not supported, as no significant relationship emerged between number of children in the household and voluntary activity. This conflicts with the findings of recent studies (Mueller 1975; Schram and Dunsing 1981). However, reanalysis of the data in this research indicated a significant relationship when voluntary activity was defined as hours per month volunteered to child-oriented organizations only (church, school, children's athletic or children's service organizations).

The results of this study do not support some of the tenets of collective action theory (Olson 1973), in that voluntarism is considerably higher among these respondents (59%) than among the U.S. population in general (30%). This result may be peculiar to the Cincinnati sample, or it may also be due to social acceptability bias. Following collective action theory, it might also be explained by the fact that the majority of organizations under study were small, face-to-face groups, which can more readily utilize social rewards and sanctions to coerce participation.

Two weaknesses in the study should be mentioned. First, the use of a composite SES index has been criticized by a number of researchers, as summarized by Schiffman and Kanuk (1978). Second, a better perceived community need measure is needed. Two Likert scale items were utilized in this study and considered separately rather than aggregated. The fact that one item was significant in the regression analysis and the other item was more useful to classification in the discriminant analysis raises some reliability questions. Moreover, correlation between the two items was significant but low (.22), suggesting that a stronger scale might be developed.

REFERENCES

ACTION (1975), Americans Volunteer 1974, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Becker, Gary S. (1965), "A Theory of the Allocation of Time," Economic Journal, 75 (September), 493-517.

Becker, Gary S. (1974), "A Theory of Social Interactions," Journal of Political Economy, 82 (November-December). 1063-1093.

Gidron, Benjamin (1976), "Rewards from Sustained Volunteer Work: A Study of Volunteers in Four Health and Mental Health Institutions," unpublished-doctoral dissertation, University of Maryland Baltimore Professional Schools.

Henderson, Karla A. (1981), 'Motivations and Perceptions of Voluntarism as a Leisure Activity, Journal of Leisure Research, 13(3) 208-218.

Jenner, Jessica Reynolds (1981), "Volunteerism as an Aspect of Women's Work Lives," Journal of Vocational Behavior, 19, 302-314.

Kotler, Philip (1982), Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Mueller, Marnie W. (1975), "Economic Determinants of Volunteer Work by Women," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 1(2), 325-335.

Oborne, D.J. and S. Bradley (1975), "Blood Donor and Nondonor Motivation: A Transnational Replication," Journal of Applied Psychology, 60(4), 409-410.

Olson, Mancur (1973), The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Paulhus, Delroy L., David R. Shaffer, and Leslie L. Downing (1977), "Effects of Making Blood Donor Motives Salient Upon Donor Retention: A Field Experiment, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 3, 99-102.

Reece, William S. (1979), "Charitable Contributions: New Evidence on Household Behavior," American Economic Review, 69 (March), 142-151.

Schiffman, Leon G. and Leslie Lazar Kanuk (1978), Consumer Behavior, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Schram, Vicki R. and Marilyn M. Dunsing (1981), "Influences on Married Women's Volunteer Work Participation,' Journal of Consumer Research, 7 (March), 372-379.

Schwartz, R.A. (1970), "Personal Philanthropic Contributions," Journal of Political Economy, 78 (November-December), 1264-1291.

Tomeh, Aida K. (1973), "Formal Voluntary Organizations," Sociological Inquiry, 43 (3-4), 89-122.

Tomeh, Aida K. (1981), "The Value of Voluntarism Among Minority Groups," Phylon, 42 (1), 86-96.

U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census (1963), "Methodology and Scores of Socioeconomic Status," Working Paper 815, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Volunteer -The National Center for Citizen Involvement, Arlington, Virginia. (data from phone conversation. February 1984).

Wiehe, Vernon R. and Lenora Isenhour (1977), "Motivation of Volunteers," Journal of Social Welfare, 73-79.

----------------------------------------