How family status and life cycle events affect volunteering

Marriage and having a spouse who volunteers is linked to volunteering

Many of the studies we reviewed point to a positive relationship between marriage and volunteering.

These suggest that married people are more likely to volunteer compared to single people, particularly if the spouse volunteers (Nesbit, 2012b; Taniguchi, 2006). Marriage has been found to increase social contacts and networks, opening up opportunities to be asked to volunteer (Smith and Wang, 2017) and if a spouse volunteers this can have a strong influence on their partner (Nesbit, 2012b). There is less evidence on the links between volunteering and having a partner but not being married.

The relationship between marriage and volunteering might, however, be influenced by a number of factors. Newly married women (but not men) have been found to be less likely to volunteer, only returning to their former volunteering patterns after a few years (Einolf and Philbrick, 2014). Gender and the dynamics within the family will also have a bearing on involvement, including whether time spent volunteering is seen as compatible with marriage and family life and the way roles and responsibilities are carved up within the household (Kim and Dew, 2016; Moen and Flood, 2013).

Parenthood has a major effect on volunteering

When a new baby is born into a family, involvement in volunteering is found to dip because of the time and attention needed to look after young children (Nesbit, 2012a, Oesterle et al, 2004). Volunteering, however, increases when children reach school age (Einolf, 2018; Taniguchi, 2006), when parents experience an increase in the 'obligation, the motivation, and perhaps the number of invitations to volunteer' (Rotolo and Wilson, 2007, p500).

Indeed, a number of studies have shown how children open up opportunities for parents to get involved in volunteering, often through schools and sports (Caputo, 2010; Ravanera et al, 2002).

The evidence is less strong on the link between the age of parents and volunteering. Some studies suggest, however, that young parents volunteer less due to the lack of time and effects of low incomes on teen motherhood (Fang et al, 2018; Peters et al, 2012). Single parenthood has also been linked to lower levels of parent volunteering (Lancee and Radl, 2014) and this appears to be particularly the case for single parents with pre-school children who may lack the support married parents have (Sundeen, 1990).

Caring responsibilities can impact on involvement in volunteering

The evidence on the effects of caring on volunteering is mixed and based on a limited number of studies. The care of grandchildren has been linked to lower levels of volunteering among grandparents because of the reduced time they have available and the tiredness caused by looking after children (Arpino and Bordone, 2017). Similarly, women’s caregiving to older relatives has been linked to reduced involvement in volunteering (Taniguichi, 2006).

Other studies, however, highlight a link between care giving and increased volunteering, arguing that the social connections carers have provides more opportunities for volunteering and increases the chances of being asked to get involved (Burr et al, 2005). One study found that carers may choose to get involved in their communities in more informal ways as they are less able to commit formally to organisations and groups (Pettigrew et al, 2018).

Gender influences the effects of separation and divorce on volunteering

Exploring the links between separation, divorce and volunteering also presents a mixed picture. On the whole, studies suggest a positive link between volunteering and marriage and most (but not all) highlight a decline in involvement following divorce (Lancee and Radl, 2014). The loss of social networks is thought to be important here as 'divorced people lose the social contacts that connect them to volunteering activities' (Lance and Radl, 2014, p849).

The effects of divorce and separation on volunteering, however, seems to differ for men and women. Research suggests that women experience increased financial strain following divorce resulting in reduced volunteering, whereas for men the increased social isolation leads to lower levels of involvement (Kim and Jang, 2019).