Does volunteering make us happier, or are happier people more likely to volunteer? Addressing the problem of reverse causality when estimating the wellbeing impacts of volunteering
17 Mar 2020
Evidence of the correlation between volunteering and wellbeing has been gradually accumulating, but to date this research has had limited success in accounting for the factors that are likely to drive self-selection into volunteering by ‘happier’ people. To better isolate the impact that volunteering has on people’s wellbeing, we explore nationally representative UK household datasets with an extensive longitudinal component, to run panel analysis which controls for the previous higher or lower levels of SWB that volunteers report. Using first-difference estimation within the British Household Panel Survey and Understanding Society longitudinal panel datasets (10 waves spanning about 20 years), we are able to control for higher prior levels of wellbeing of those who volunteer, and to produce the most robust quasi-causal estimates to date by ensuring that volunteering is associated not just with a higher wellbeing a priori, but with a positive change in wellbeing. Comparison of equivalent wellbeing values from previous studies shows that our analysis is the most realistic and conservative estimate to date of the association between volunteering and subjective wellbeing, and its equivalent wellbeing value of £911 per volunteer per year on average to compensate for the wellbeing increase associated with volunteering. It is our hope that these values can be incorporated into decision-making at the policy and practitioner level, to ensure that the societal benefits provided by volunteering are better understood and internalised into decisions.
Journal of Happiness Studies
Not held in Hilary Doughty Research Library - bibliographic reference only; Online Early