Volunteer Output and the National Accounts: An Empirical Analysis
by Yvon H. Pho*
Paper presented at the 2004 Eastern Economic Association Annual Meeting,
Washington, DC, February 20-22, 2004.
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
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.
* US Department of Commerce, Bureau
Of Economic Analysis, Washington, DC, 20230. The author would like to
acknowledge the research and analytical assistance provided by Jaime Harris.
Many thanks to all the reviewers who provided constructive comments. Any
errors in this document are the author's own. In addition, the opinions
expressed in this paper are those of the author and not necessarily those
of the Bureau of Economic Analysis or the US Department of Commerce.
February 25, 2004