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The Moderating Effect of Rurality on the Incidence and Intensity of Volunteering Behavior

Wed, July 11, 9:00 to 10:30am, Room, 11A 24


In the 21st century, public policy increasingly depends upon voluntary action to address local issues, yet local capacity for voluntary action differs significantly across place. For example, past research suggests that volunteering rates may differ between rural and urban places (Hooghe & Botterman, 2012; Turcotte, 2005). Traditional social science theory suggests that individuals living in rural areas have higher levels of trust and stronger social connections to their community, which may promote volunteering (Fallah & Partridge 2007; Hofferth & Iceland 1998; Putnam 2000). However, ongoing shifts in the socio-demographic characteristics of communities and the drivers of volunteerism may be changing the landscape of volunteering, particularly in rural communities where these shifts are creating greater barriers to participation (Goudy 1990; Sampson, 1998; Wilkinson and Pickett 2009). Unfortunately, many contemporary studies of place-based determinants of volunteerism are based upon data from metropolitan respondents, leaving significant gaps in our understanding of volunteering in rural places. So the question remains: How do community contextual factors influence volunteering behaviors across rural and urban communities?
This paper explores the place-based determinants of differences in volunteering behavior between rural and urban respondents. We are specifically interested in whether individuals living in rural areas have higher incidence and intensity of volunteering. We test this proposition by accessing the confidential American Current Population Survey (CPS) volunteering data. The CPS is a nationally representative survey of individual work and employment status, social life, and household economics, with topical supplementary questionnaires included every month (U.S. Census Bureau 2015). Every September since 2002, the CPS has included a supplemental questionnaire about the incidence and intensity of volunteering. For this paper, we will use a pooled data set of 2002 through 2015 CPS September data, which includes approximately 800,000 respondents. We will supplement this individual level data with existing county-level census demographic data by matching individual responses to county-level data.
We thus make a significant contribution to the scholarship of volunteerism and the professional discussions about building engaged communities by exploring the community-level drivers and inhibitors of volunteering, specifically as they relate to rurality and the type of volunteer activity. In doing so, our paper offers an important contribution to our conceptual understanding of the contextual drivers of volunteerism.