Volunteer Output and the National Accounts: An Empirical Analysis (PDF)

Volunteer activities attempt to promote a sense of community unity and ownership. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor, approximately 59 million people participated in volunteer activities in the year beginning September 2001. Although utility is derived from participation, no monetary compensation is received. Therefore, the value of volunteer output is generally not recognized in the national economic accounts, as defined by the 1993 System of National Accounts.

This research paper has three primary objectives. The first is to estimate a monetary value for volunteer activities. The second is to identify demographic characteristics of individuals most likely to volunteer. The third and final objective is to explore those industries with the greatest number of volunteer labor hours. Data for this study come from the September 2002 Current Population Survey Volunteer Supplement and are analyzed using a cross-section Probit analysis coupled with supplementary econometric estimation techniques.

Contingent upon the valuation technique, this analysis assesses volunteer labor output to range between $79 to $130 billion. Further, the data suggest that over one-third of total volunteer hours is provided by those not in the labor force and those in the labor force, but unemployed. Examination by industry reveals that the educational services industry within the services sector provides the greatest number of volunteer hours. The data also show that professional specialty workers contribute the most time relative to other occupational groups.

This research contributes to the existing literature in several ways. First, it conceptualizes the issue of volunteerism, and offers an approach to value output generated by volunteer labor based on detailed wage data. Second, it enables the determination of approximately how much volunteer labor output is not covered because of the definitional constraints of GDP as a measure of largely market activities. Finally, identifying characteristics of those individuals who volunteer enables the formulation of targeted initiatives that would promote greater participation. 

Yvon H. Pho