Increased participation in voluntary work

Norwegians have not become less eager to participate in voluntary work over last decades. On the contrary, the participation has increased since the 1990s.


By Andreas R. Graven

forsker bjarte folkestad
Bjarte Folkestad. (Photograph: Ingvild Festervoll Melien)

Six out of ten Norwegians (61 percent) report having done voluntary work for at least one organisation during the past 12 months.

This is revealed in the report Frivillig innsats i Noreg 1998-2014 (Volunteering in Norway 1998-2014), which was presented at a conference in Oslo thursday 15 October.

The new report was financed by the Ministry of Culture through a partnership called the Centre for Research on Civil Society and Voluntary Sector. 

The Uni Research Rokkan Centre and the Institute for Social Research are included in this partnership.

Maintaining a high level

“We find a consistently high level of general volunteering, and it has in fact increased slightly over time. In 1998, about 50 percent were engaged in volunteer work, while in 2004 the proportion was 58 percent,” says researcher Bjarte Folkestad of the Uni Research Rokkan Centre.

The researchers’ term “general volunteering” covers a wide variety of work.

“It may for example apply to unpaid administrative work for an organisation, community volunteering, coaching a sports team, being involved in campaigns, information activities, flea markets, home visiting services or acting as a guide for refugees,” says Folkestad.

Last year there were more people volunteering in Norway than in Scandinavian neighbours Sweden and Denmark.

“We’re doing well compared to Sweden and Denmark, where the proportion of the population engaged in volunteer work is about 50 and 30 percent respectively,” Folkestad continues.

14 to 15 hours on average

The researchers also found that the time spent on volunteering varied widely, from the so-called core volunteers who put in dozens of hours every month to those who devote a few hours here and there.

However, the average number of hours has remained stable at about 14-15 per month from the end of 1998 until 2014.

Immigrants’ contribution to voluntary work was not specifically studied in this report.

But the Rokkan Centre at Uni Research is working on a report on this theme to be published in 2016.

More volunteering where the children have activities

The researchers see a trend where much of the volunteering that has increased is on behalf of the volunteer’s own children.

Bjarte Folkestad believes this trend may be related to changes in parenting.

“Parents quite simply spend more time with their children than before. It is quite clear that differences in volunteering are increasing between families with children and households without children,” says Folkestad.

At the same time, the differences between certain groups have diminished over time.

“People with less education have increased their volunteering, while those with higher education have maintained their level. There may in fact be a connection to parenting, but perhaps also to changes in the structure of society. When more people take higher education, the effect of that factor may decrease to some extent,” he adds.

“On the other hand, differences in volunteering between men and women, and married and single people, are stable over time,” says Folkestad.

More organisations, but fewer are members

The new report also shows that more people now carry out voluntary work for a greater number of organisations.

However, there is a downward trend in the numbers who are members of the organisation they volunteer for. That figure is now 78 percent, but has previously been close to 90 percent.

“People are spreading their voluntary work more than before, and being closely involved is a little less common now,” says Folkestad.

The analyses in the report are based on four population surveys from 1998, 2004, 2009 and 2014.

Also included is an online survey from 2014 and 2015; this is part of the University of Bergen’s Norwegian Citizen Panel.

Folkestad points out that it can be challenging to measure volunteerism and that the figures may not be entirely reliable.


Oct. 15, 2015, 9 a.m.

cp: 2017-12-14 04:17:46