The Economic Genius of Volunteering

More than 1 billion people volunteer around the world annually but because they do not receive taxed income for their efforts, the economic effect of volunteering is often excluded from GDP calculations.

British social scientist Andy Haldane recently waxed numeric over the economic, personal, and social benefits of volunteering. And in the United States, which has the third highest rate of volunteering in the world, that's good news. (The US sits behind Shri Lanka and Turkmenistan, whose government declares days of "compulsory volunteering"). 

More than 1 billion people volunteer around the world annually but because they do not receive taxed income, the economic effect of their efforts is excluded from GDP calculations. In England, for example, 1.25 million volunteers contribute roughly $39 billion of economic activity annually, accounting for 1.5% of national GDP.

Haldane also measured the personal benefits derived from volunteering. After having employment and being in good health, volunteering was shown to have the greatest impact on well-being. On average, an individual would need to be paid an extra $3,900 per year to forego the wellness benefits of giving their time away to a good cause. 

"And then there are the social benefits. Helping homeless people off the street has, in econo-speak, significant "positive externalities": improved employment and income prospects, lower criminal activity, lower risk of mental-health problems, and so forth."

To derive more personal and economic satisfaction from volunteering, Harvard professor Michael Porter argues that people's professional skills should be more aligned with their volunteer efforts. Essentially he argues that having highly qualified professionals clean up roadside garbage is inefficient. But if people are paid in their professional life for their most essential skills, is it fair to ask them to give up their bread and butter?

Read more at the Economist

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Related Articles

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less

NASA launches ICESat-2 into orbit to track ice changes in Antarctica and Greenland

Using advanced laser technology, scientists at NASA will track global changes in ice with greater accuracy.

Firing three pairs of laser beams 10,000 times per second, the ICESat-2 satellite will measure how long it takes for faint reflections to bounce back from ground and sea ice, allowing scientists to measure the thickness, elevation and extent of global ice

Leaving from Vandenberg Air Force base in California this coming Saturday, at 8:46 a.m. ET, the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or, the "ICESat-2" — is perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, and when it assumes its orbit, it will study ice layers at Earth's poles, using its only payload, the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

Keep reading Show less