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Soc Sci Med. 2008 Jun;66(11):2321-34. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.01.011. Epub 2008 Mar 5.

Doing well by doing good. The relationship between formal volunteering and self-reported health and happiness.

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The London School of Economics, Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK.


In this paper, we examine whether engaging in voluntary work leads to greater well-being, as measured by self-reported health and happiness. Drawing on data from the USA, our estimates suggest that people who volunteer report better health and greater happiness than people who do not, a relationship that is not driven by socio-economic differences between volunteers and non-volunteers. We concentrate on voluntary labor for religious groups and organizations and using second stage least square regressions we find that religious volunteering has a positive, causal influence on self-reported happiness but not on self-reported health. We explore reasons that could account for the observed causal effect of volunteering on happiness. Findings indicate that low relative socio-economic status is associated with poor health both among those who volunteer and those who do not. Low status, however, is associated with unhappy states only among those who do not volunteer, while volunteers are equally likely to be happy whether they have high or low status. We propose that volunteering might contribute to happiness levels by increasing empathic emotions, shifting aspirations and by moving the salient reference group in subjective evaluations of relative positions from the relatively better-off to the relatively worse-off.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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