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

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • There are 2 different approaches to governing free speech on college campuses.
  • One is a morality/order approach. The other is a bottom-up approach.
  • Emily Chamlee-Wright says there are many benefits to having no one central authority on what is appropriate speech.

Is there an optimal time of day to exercise?

Two new studies say yes. Unfortunately, each claims a different time.

Bronx, N.Y.: NYPD officer Julissa Camacho works out at the 44th precinct gym in the Bronx, New York on April 3, 2019. (Photo by Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday via Getty Images)
Surprising Science
  • Research at the Weizmann Institute of Sciences declares evening to be the best time for an exercise session.
  • Not so fast, says a new study at UC Irvine, which replies that late morning is the optimal workout time.
  • Both studies involved mice on treadmills and measured different markers to produce their results.
Keep reading Show less
Big Think Edge
  • Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett breaks down what qualities will inspire others to believe in you.
  • Here's how 300 leaders and 4,000 mid-level managers described someone with executive presence.
  • Get more deep insights like these to power your career forward. Join Big Think Edge.