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Study: Volunteering in Canada, 2004 to 2013

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Released: 2015-06-18

The proportion of Canadians who volunteered has remained relatively unchanged at 44% over the past decade, but volunteer involvement has fallen in certain sectors. While still among the most common, volunteer participation in the education and research sector declined from 25% in 2004 to 20% in 2013 and participation in religious organizations fell from 22% to 19%.

The decrease in the education and research sector was partly explained by the decline in volunteering among Canadians aged 35 to 44—the group most likely to help out at schools. Meanwhile, the drop in the religious sector mirrors a decline in volunteering among weekly religious attendees, from 65% in 2004 to 59% in 2013.

Involvement in most other sectors has held steady over time, with the exception of a significant increase in volunteering at universities and colleges. While a minority of volunteers committed their time to this sector, the proportion has grown from 2% in 2004 to 5% in 2013.

Older Canadians less likely to volunteer but contributing more hours

Similar to previous years, the overall rate of volunteering was highest among teens aged 15 to 19, at 66%. This was followed by people aged 35 to 44, at 48%. Rates subsequently declined with age, with the lowest rates recorded among Canadians aged 75 years and older, at 27%.

While older Canadians were less likely to volunteer, they devoted more hours to their volunteer work. On average, volunteers aged 65 to 74 devoted the most hours, at 231 hours annually. This was followed by those aged 55 to 64, at 203 hours, and those 75 years and older, at 196 hours. Teen and middle-aged volunteers logged half as many hours.

Lack of time: Leading barrier to volunteering

Both women and men cited a lack of time as the leading barrier to volunteering, with 66% giving this as a reason for not volunteering. Certain barriers, like a lack of awareness and interest, were more commonly reported by men. For example, 33% of men said they were not interested in volunteer work, compared with 25% of women.

The barriers to volunteering shift as people get older. For those under 55, a lack of time was by far the biggest challenge to devoting any time to volunteering, reported by three-quarters (75%) of non-volunteers in the age group. After 55, time constraints became a less common factor (50%), while issues related to health (43%) and the preference to give money rather than time (62%) grew as reasons for not volunteering.

The leading barriers to volunteering have remained relatively constant over time, though the percentage of non-volunteers citing a lack of interest in volunteering increased from 23% in 2004 to 29% in 2013. A growing share said that no one had asked them to volunteer, from 40% in 2004 to 49% in 2013.

Most volunteers motivated by a desire to contribute to their communities

The vast majority of volunteers are motivated by their desire to contribute to their community, as 93% gave this reason in 2013. Additionally, 77% wanted to make good use of their skills and experience, 60% said they had been personally affected by the cause the organization supported, and 52% volunteered because they wanted to improve their own sense of well-being.

Reasons for volunteering have remained largely the same over time, although volunteering because of the involvement of friends and volunteering because of religious obligations decreased as motivations between 2004 and 2013.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Making a contribution to the community: Leading reason for volunteering, 2013
Making a contribution to the community: Leading reason for volunteering, 2013

  Note to readers

Today, Statistics Canada releases a report on volunteering in Canada from 2004 to 2013, based on data from the 2013 General Social Survey on Giving, Volunteering and Participating and the 2004, 2007 and 2010 Canadian Survey on Giving, Volunteering and Participating.

For this report, the target population included all persons 15 years of age and older living in the provinces and excluded full-time residents of institutions.


The article "Volunteering in Canada, 2004 to 2013" is now available as part of Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey (Catalogue number89-652-X) from the Browse by key resource module of our website under Publications.

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