Does volunteering promote trust? One would expect volunteers to be more trusting than non-volunteers. And indeed they are. But does a change in volunteering bring about a change in trust? It appears they do not. An analysis of data from the Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey shows that people who are more trusting are more likely to start volunteering. But becoming a volunteer does not make them more trusting. Likewise, people who are already volunteering are less likely to quit the more trusting they are. But quitting volunteering does not make them any less trusting. The respondents in this analysis were tracked for four years. The results cast doubt not only on central tenets of theories on social capital but also on the viability of policies encouraging people to volunteer in order to make them into better citizens. The research was accepted recently by Political Behavior. The paper is here: http://www.springerlink.com/content/673pk056786r6415/
In a follow-up study with my colleague Erik van Ingen from Tilburg University we are now examining whether the results hold in other countries, such as the UK, Switzerland, and Australia.