Document Type


Publication Date

December 2006

Journal or Book Title

Comparative Political Studies






This article seeks to explain why different types of volunteer organizations are prevalent in different countries. It hypothesizes that patterns of volunteer participation are a function of citizen attitudes toward governmental and individual responsibility for caring for society. Those countries (e.g., Japan)—where citizens think that governments should be responsible for dealing with social problems—will tend to have higher participation in embedded volunteer organizations, such as parent-teacher associations. Those countries (e.g., the United States)—where citizens think that individuals should take responsibility for dealing with social problems—will tend to have more participation in nonembedded, organizations, such as Greenpeace. These hypotheses are tested statistically using membership data from eight organizations in 68 countries. Alternative explanations, such as levels of income, education, urbanization, and prevalence of working women, are also tested. Citizen attitudes about individual and governmental responsibility are best able to explain the prevalence of different types of volunteer organizations found in different countries.