Who Is in Charge? Social Inequality in Different Fields of Volunteering

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


Volunteering in civil society organizations (CSOs) is often idealized as an arena that is open to everybody. Prior research, however, has shown that participation in volunteer work also depends on an individual’s wealth, education, and social networks. CSOs are not open to every volunteer. Inequality within volunteers, however, has rarely been investigated, as are the factors that bring actors into more powerful positions in volunteering. Our research concentrates on this question. We aim to identify the characteristics and resources that are important for holding an executive position in the field of volunteering in general and in four selected subfields (culture and leisure, social services, religion, sports). To this end, we analyzed a large database created from the Austrian micro-census. The findings reveal significant relations between the actors’ economic, social, and educational resources, and their hierarchical positions in CSOs in each of the fields. Overall results indicate that social inequality is (re-)produced by the way CSOs select and promote volunteers. We embed our findings in Pierre Bourdieu’s Social Theory and conclude that volunteering, in particular, volunteering on boards and committees might be one of the hidden mechanisms that reinforce inequality in society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-32
JournalVoluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 502023 NPO research
  • 504007 Empirical social research

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