The act of volunteering may be an activity undertaken for several reasons. Whether seeking to meet new people, gain new skills and experience or make a difference by helping out in the community, volunteering may be a rewarding use of free time. It seems a recent publication may indicate those who volunteer may experience several other benefits, primarily benefits relating to positive health and well-being. Since 2001, a cross-national survey of attitudes and behaviour, known as known as the European Social Survey (ESS), uses probability samples to which aim to represent all persons aged 15 and over and resident in several European countries. The European Social Survey aims to be conducted every two years and it seems the results from 2012 and 2013 may have yielded new information regarding individuals who volunteer. Researchers from Ghent University, Belgium, analysed the data acquired from the sixth round of the European Social Survey, conducted between 2012 and 2013, and their published results seem to indicate a correlation between improved employment and health.
During the sixth round of the European Social Survey, which surveyed 42926 individuals within 29 countries, found more than 23% of the respondents were reportedly involved in work for voluntary organisations at least once every six months. Evidence for a positive association between volunteering and health seems to have been found across different age groups in countries such as Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Estonia, Finland, France, United Kingdom, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden. Data regarding the volunteer, health and socio-demographic characteristics from the individuals surveyed were analysed to test a hypothesis. The hypotheses the researchers set out to prove was to identify whether volunteering is directly associated with an improved self-rated health. In order to test this hypothesis, the researchers analysed data from the European Social Survey and the data collected from the randomly selected participants.
According to the study, countries with fewer than two million residents had around 800 individuals selected to participate and in countries with a population larger than two million, a minimum of 1500 individuals were selected. To identify the individuals involved with volunteer work, participants were asked how often they may have been involved with a voluntary or charitable organisation in the past 12 months. In addition to determining each individual’s volunteer status, questions were asked about religious beliefs, education level, gender, age and a number of other data variables which were analysed. After the results were collected and the data analysed, the research indicated 24.1% of the subjects were involved with a voluntary or charitable organisation in the past 12 months. Volunteers were also asked to provide a self-rating of their health and, on average, volunteers seemed to provide a health rating which averaged 0.106 standard deviations higher than individuals involved in volunteer work.
This result of the data analysed seems to have lead scholars in health and social sciences to believe volunteer work may be linked to beneficial health-related outcomes. These findings seem to also be supported by neuroscience research, which aims provide a different perspective while also indicating the benefits of volunteering. The neuroscience research indicates there seems to be a release of positive hormones often seen related to caregiving, such as oxytocin and progesterone which have the capacity to regulate stress and inflammation. With the scientific evidence presented and the correlations in data identified, the research believed those who participated in volunteer and charitable work seem to demonstrate improvements in self-esteem, self-efficacy and social integration; these attributes being, those which seem to have an overall positive effect on health. In addition to the social benefits volunteering may have, increased physical and cognitive activity may also result from volunteering. All this evidence and the data analysed seems to support the hypothesis which suggests volunteering and involvement in charity work may yield positive results relating to mental and physical health.
How might the results of this study change the way volunteering is perceived?