Back in May, when the ABS released its working time statistics, left-familist John Buchanan went on the offensive:
“It is not just family life, but community life that is being compromised,” said the director of the Workplace Research Centre at Sydney University, John Buchanan. “It just rips the heart out of the football team.”
Yesterday, the ABS released its 2006 voluntary work statistics, showing yet again that left-familist analysis owes more to its ideological assumptions than to empirical social science. Despite two rounds of IR reform since they started these surveys in 1995, the volunteering rate continues to increase, though at a lower overall rate.
The figures were 1995 – 23.6%, 2000- 31.8%, 2002 – 34.4%, 2006 – 35.4%. Unfortunately there is no specific information on football teams (though only work for the team, rather than playing, would be counted) but young men aged 18-24 showed above average increases in volunteering between the two surveys. Indeed, the increase between the last two surveys was driven by the 18-44 year olds, with older age groups showing minor increases or decline.
Also inconsistent with the time poverty argument, those in professional and managerial jobs and higher income groups (two socioeconomic characteristics linked with long work hours) had above average volunteering rates.
The survey confirms that social capital breeds further social capital. People whose parents had been volunteers were nearly twice as likely to volunteer as those whose parents were not volunteers (43%/23%). People who had participated as a child in team sport, a youth group, a religious organisation, or had been a volunteer worker were more than twice as likely to be adult volunteers as those who had not done any of these things. Similarly, the most common explanations given for how the volunteer became involved were social – someone asked (35%) and knew someone involved (29%).
This presumably helps explains why migrants have lower rates of volunteering – 36.2% of the Australian-born volunteer compared to 25.9% of those born in non-English-speaking countries (with other English-speaking countries closer to the Australian-born on 34%). Australian-born people are more likely to have a family history of involvement or to know somebody who is involved in a voluntary group.
When social capital came into vogue in the 1990s there was a lot of pessimism surrounding it. Eva Cox’s 1995 Boyer Lectures argued that economic and political trends were against it (Eva, who has joined just about every leftist bandwagon for half a century, is one the Benchmarks signatories along with Buchanan). Largely excellent social scientists like Robert Putnam made a convincing case that social capital was declining in the United States, though from a high base.
In Australia, some older community organisations are undoubtedly in decline. But after four ABS surveys all pointing to an increase in volunteering we can be reasonably confident that in Australia social capital is again on the rise.