Analysis of the 2006 GSS and the 2006 Census data showed that the overall difference in volunteer rates of 1.5 to 2 times was relatively consistent across a wide range of characteristics including age, sex, social marital status, family composition and educational attainment. The difference between GSS and Census volunteer rates was more pronounced for who those whose main language spoken at home was not English, particularly those who do not speak English well, or not at all.
Overall the profiles of volunteers obtained from the two collections were similar and the logistic regression on the GSS yielded similar results. Factors associated with volunteering included age, sex, educational attainment, proficiency in spoken English, family composition and employment status. These results are consistent with previous research on volunteering (Zappala and Burrell, 2001; Reed and Selbee; 2001; Smith 1994; Evans and Kelly; 2000; Lyons and Hocking; 2000, Cox 2000).
It has been shown through analysis of lone person households that the difference between Census and GSS estimates for voluntary workers is not solely due to proxy reporting. The difference may also be due to personal interview approach, using more detailed questions and prompting in the GSS. This finding is also consistent with previous research (Bailie, 2006; Rooney et al., 2004).
Some groups are more likely to be identified as volunteers in the Census, such as people who are highly educated. The results of the Census small area SLA comparison showed that variations in the Census voluntary work rates are consistent with demographics of the population of the small areas and in line with the predictors of voluntary work, although the volunteering rates will be understated in the Census.
This leads to the question of how the two data sources can be used to provide information on volunteers. In most cases the high quality and detailed information contained in the GSS will be most appropriate for the needs of users, especially for estimates at the national and state level. The GSS has an extensive range of social and economic data items available for use in the analysis of volunteers.
As a survey, however, the GSS is subject to sampling error which can be large if the number of observations for a particular characteristic is small. Therefore, the Census may be suitable for analysis on voluntary work for differences between small areas or for small population groups. However given the relative and consistently lower voluntary work rates this should be used with caution. To provide context and accuracy, users could analyse Census results for voluntary work in conjunction with other information that might be known about the area or group under study, for example residents’ educational profile or the number of families with young children. This combined information could be useful for: planning; directing support services to volunteers in local areas; targeting publicity to encourage people to become volunteers; and the development of a local area indicator for the strength of communities or social inclusion.