Volunteerism: Social Network Dynamics and Education

Objectives . We examine how changes in social networks influence volunteerism through bridging (diversity) and bonding (spending time) mechanisms. We further investigate whether social network change substitutes or amplifies the effects of education on volunteerism.Methods . Data (n = 543) are drawn from a two-wave survey of Social Relations and Health over the Life Course (SRHLC). Zero-inflated negative binomial regressions were conducted to test competing hypotheses about how changes in social network characteristics alone and in conjunction with education level predict likelihood and frequency of volunteering.Results . Changes in social networks were associated with volunteerism: as the proportion of family members decreased and the average number of network members living within a one-hour drive increased over time, participants reported higher odds of volunteering. The substitution hypothesis was supported: social networks that exhibited more geographic proximity and greater contact frequency over-time compensated for lower levels of education to predict volunteering more hours.Discussion . The dynamic role of social networks and the ways in which they may work through bridging and bonding to influence both likelihood and frequency of volunteering are discussed. The potential benefits of volunteerism in light of longer life expectancies and smaller families are also considered.