#TBT ”Sex-distribution in the Swedish Red Cross Youth result of social norms?”

Since I’m currently in a course on scientific methodology and I’m really not studying (and of course definitely not freaking out about how to pass the course *cough*), I decided to go back in the archive and find the first ever research paper that I ever wrote, as an English assignment ( March 2012). Hey, if I could do it then, I can do it now! Never mind I had no idea what internal/external validity, confidence interval or standard error meant back then (although I was probably much better at maths when I was 17 than I am now). From a scientific point of view it’s kind of bs but it was fun. I guess. Since it’s throwback Thursday and all, I thought I’d also share it with you! (And also because I’m procrastinating… and I have been too lazy to write anything else for the past… 6 months)


Sex-distribution in the Swedish Red Cross Youth result of social norms?


Statistics show that about four out of five volunteers at the Swedish Red Cross Youth are females.

In order to understand the causes of this phenomena, in-depths interviews have been carried out along with questionnaires. 50 female and 50 male non-volunteers have completed the questionnaires, and one volunteer and one non-volunteer of each sex has been interviewed. The data suggests that males and females are equally empathic and value the existence of humanitarian organisations equally much, but more females  than males choose to volunteer in humanitarian organisations because of the norms of society suggesting that it is a feminine activity.

A humanitarian organisation is an organisation working to save lives, alleviate suffering and improving the human welfare.[1] The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement was founded by Henry Dunant in 1863, and is now one of the most famous trade marks in the world[2] , with humanitarianism as its fundamental principle[3]. The Swedish Red Cross Youth (RKUF) is a subsidiary organisation, which has been independent since 1996. RKUF works to help children and adolescents in vulnerable situations, with the 4 main areas humanitarian migration, participation and social safety net, diversity and compassion, and sustainable development. There are 23 local associations in 21 different cities in Sweden, around 6200 members between one to 30 years old – who support the organisation by paying 50 crowns each year – and 1060 active volunteers.[4] There is also a National Executive Committee (FS) who has the responsibility for national issues and overall operations of RKUF. Everyone except for the president of FS and the paid employees are working voluntarily[5]. RKUF receives money annually from the Swedish Red Cross and from the paying members, but also from funds that projects apply to when needing money. The volunteers mainly contribute with their time and commitment, and most projects do not require much in terms of skills and knowledge. However, in my work with RKUF I have noticed that there are always more females than males present at projects and courses. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the cause for this phenomena.

   Key words

Altruism is defined as ”voluntary, intentional behaviour that benefits another and that is not motivated by the expectation of external rewards or avoidance of externally produced punishments”[6].

Social norms are rules developed by a group of people that specify how people must, should, may, should not, and must not behave in various situations”[7], and a person that breaks the norms can receive both formal punishments, for example a parking fine, and informal ones – an odd glare. There are different norms for different social groups, and these often lead to stereotypes, which are “over-simplified or untrue generalizations about social groups”[8]

 Sex is something a person is born with depending on the X and Y chromosomes – male or female, while gender is socially constructed – man or woman.
The decision whether to volunteer or not is affected by gender identity and not by sex; because of the social norms suggesting that volunteering in humanitarian organisations is a feminine activity, more females than males are active in humanitarian organisations.
I will look at the member statistics on the RKUF web site in order to compare the number of male and female members in the organisation, and the number of female and male members in the local association boards. I will also talk to leaders of different projects and courses about the sex distribution of the participants, and I will investigate the reasons for not volunteering and the perception of voluntary work by making a questionnaire. The age range for the participants will be 15 to 30 years since this is the main target group of RKUF. I will ask friends on Facebook, and collect answers from 50 males and 50 females in order to make a comparison between the sexes. I will also look at previous studies on altruism and volunteering through a gender perspective to see if they support my findings, and  carry out four focused (semi-structured) interviews[9] in order to compare the quantitative questionnaire with qualitative data. I will interview B and K who both hold important positions within the organisation (not disclosed for confidentiality reasons). They have been engaged in RKUF for several years, and have extensive knowledge about the organisation. The other two will be students in the second year in this school, and have not had any prior contact with RKUF. Respecting that, I will not mention their names and only refer to them as female non-volunteer and male non-volunteer In the beginning of the interview, neither of the subjects will have any knowledge of the exact topic of my research paper, more than it is discussing voluntary work in humanitarian organisations, in order to not affect their answers. I will ask them about differences between volunteers and non-volunteers, and reasons for why or why not people are volunteering, to see if this implicitly or explicitly states that females are more fit for volunteering. I will analyse the interviews with respect to the sex of the responder, and the connection to RKUF.



There are several theories regarding gender development; whether it is mainly nature or nurture that determines our gender and behaviour. The theoretic perspective of this paper will be the Queer Theory, which Judith Butler writes about in her book ”Gender Trouble”. One of the main claims of Butler is that gender is ‘performative’[10], and not decided by biological factors. This means that the way we act consolidates an impression of being more or less ‘manly’ or  ‘womanly’. Society is always trying to keep us in our gendered place – man if you are a male, and woman if you are a female – both by institutional powers such as psychiatric normalisation, and informal practices, for example bullying. Butler sees gender not as a fixed attribute depending on your sex and body, but as a ”fluid of variables which shifts and changes in different contexts and at different times”[11]. Thus, there is no genetic male or female behaviour.

The existence of altruism is also a controversial topic. Since it is impossible to know the ‘real’ motive of another person it will be disregarded in this paper, and altruistic behaviour will refer to all seemingly selfless behaviour in order to benefit another. However, the theoretical perspective in the paper will be the empathy-altruism hypothesis by Charles Daniel Batson, stating that empathy is the biggest reason for altruistic acts[12], as opposed to thee social exchange theory that states that ‘altruism’ only exists if the benefits outweigh the costs. Batson claims that feeling empathy for someone in need will evoke altruistic motivation – which is the foundation of all volunteer work. Experiments supporting this theory show that people can be willing to help others even without reward, and that people become more willing to help when feeling empathic concern[13].
Background research

As shown in table 1, Out of 62 trustees in RKUF 46 are females and 17 are males, and there are 16 female and 2 males employed by RKUF, which makes a total of ¼ males. During the latest XX course, 3 out of 18, that is 1/6, participants were males. In the YY school association of RKUF, there are 7 females and 1 male engaged in the newest project. In the ZZ project, there are currently 3 male and  15 female volunteers. During the AA training weekend in 2011, there were 7 males out of 33 participants, and only 1 male lecturer out of 10[14] . Out of 200 members on the online membership list, only 33 are males. This supports the observation that more females than males are active in RKUF.

Table 1: Sex distribution among 12 local association boards and employees

Association: Female Male
Eskilstuna 2 2
Kalmar 4 2
Linköping 4 2
Lund 3 3
Malmö 3 0
Mölndal 3 0
Skaraborg 3 0
Stockholm North East 7 0
Stockholm South East 6 1
Umeå 4 2
Uppsala 6 1
Örebro 4 1
Paid employees 16 2
Total 64 16

   Previous research
Since 1970, studies regarding altruism have been conducted frequently. Generally these studies have not shown any eye catching differences between males and females.[15] However, several recent studies have shown that even though females and males score the same on empathy tests[16], women have a higher tendency to work as volunteers[17]. This is controversial because according to the empathy-altruism hypothesis, empathic feelings should automatically lead to altruism, which is the foundation for a choice of volunteering. A similar empathy score should logically lead to a similar tendency to volunteer, but this is not the case, which lead to the belief that there is another factor than inner motivation of empathy affecting the choice whether to volunteer or not.

   Social acceptance

The questionnaire included a question asking the participants why they are not volunteering in a humanitarian organisation. More males than females answered that it was because they found it boring or unnecessary, while more female than males answered that they did not know (tab.2). It is hard to draw a conclusion from these answers since almost everyone has time to volunteer in some way if they would want to, thus everyone who chose not to do so believe that it is boring or unnecessary in some degree. However, if the answer they chose is what they want to show outwards, these results suggest that it is more normatively acceptable for males to simply not want to volunteer considering that more males than females chose that answer. This means that they are, as Butler states it, being kept in their gendered places by the norms. This is also true for the two non-volunteers that were interviewed – the female did not know why she is not volunteering, whilst the male securely answered that he was not interested.

Table 2: Why do you not volunteer in a humanitarian organisation?

  Males (%) Female (%) Total (%)
Lack of time 54 52 52
Boring, unnecessary 22 10 12
Don’t know 16 32 23
Other 8 6 13

   Volunteering in general
Table 3 shows that more of the males than females that were asked have worked as volunteers, in contrast to the situation in RKUF. This suggests that males are not more reluctant than females to volunteer in general – rather the opposite. However, males seem to be active mostly in sports organisations, something that lays more within the male norms than humanitarian organisations do. According to K and B, the reasons to volunteer in RKUF should be the same for both males and females, and the female non-volunteer also believed that the sex distribution is equal, probably due to the fact that there should be no difference in male and female motivation. However, this is not the case.

Table 3: Have you ever worked as a volunteer? If yes, in what areas? (multiple-choice)

  Male (%): Female (%): Total (%):
No 38 52 45
Sports 46 20 34
Religion 8 0 4
Environment 0 6 4
Politics 4 6 5
Animals 0 2 1
Plants 0 0 0
Culture 20 12 26
Other 6 12 9

   Importance of RKUF

More females than males are aware of the work of RKUF (see tab. 4), and more females also find the existence of the Red Cross in Sweden important (tab. 5). This does not mean that males find the Red Cross less important since one fifth of the males chose ”don’t know”, but males seem to be less aware of the existence of the Red Cross and the RKUF. However, the differences in table 5 are not significant, which suggests that males and females find empathy equally important. According to the empathy-altruism hypothesis, they should then be equally altruistic.

Table 4: Do you know what RKUF does in Sweden?

  Males (%): Females (%): Total (%):
Yes 18 24 21
No 82 76 79

Table 5: Do you find the existence of the Red Cross in Sweden important?

  Males (%): Females (%): Total (%):
Yes 70 74 72
No 6 8 7
Don’t know 24 18 21

 Assumed sex-distribution

Despite the lack of knowledge regarding the Red Cross, a majority believed that more women than men are active in RKUF (see tab. 6). 99% of the participants made a wild guess or used deductive reasoning and 1% claimed to know the answer, which suggests that the society stereotypically expects women to be engaged in these kind of activities more than men. In the interviews, this also came up as a possible explanation. “Women help people, men fight against tigers”, as the male non-volunteer explained. Statements like this encourages the present norms, and he admitted that this is a common conception. K also states that RKUF is a too soft and nice organisation, which does not fit into the male norm. B explains that he has never received any negative feedback from the surroundings, on the contrary, but that however the situation might be worse for males who are already outside of the social norms to work as a volunteer. However, even though the feedback he receives is positive, it reinforces the difference between female and male volunteers as it focuses more on the sex than the actual work done.

Table 6: What do you think the sex distribution looks like among the volunteers in RKUF?

  Males (%): Females (%): Total (%):
More than 80% men 0 0 0
60-80% men 4 8 6
40-60% of both 22 6 14
60-80% women 66 62 64
More than 80% women 8 24 16

Since males and females answered similarly the question about the importance of RKUF (table 5), there should be no difference in their feelings of empathy – and according to the empathy-altruism hypothesis of Batson, there should be no difference in altruism. However, if volunteering it is not sex-dependent genetically, it is response to the expectations from the surroundings, as supported by the queer theory. Even though more males than females volunteer in sports, females are clearly over represented in RKUF. If the society believes that volunteering in a humanitarian organisation is a female characteristic, it will, according to the queer-theory, consciously or unconsciously encourage females and discourage males to become active in order to keep them in their gendered places, leading to more females than males in volunteering organisations. The answers from the questionnaire and the interviews support the idea that it is less accepted for males to volunteer in humanitarian organisations, whereas it is less accepted for females not to volunteer, leading to the unbalanced sex-ratio today.

Reflection on methodology

The reliability of the questionnaire can be improved in many ways. First of all, some terms were not defined, and some questions – and answers – can be interpreted ambiguously. I did not define “volunteering” or “humanitarian” and I did not specify nor explain the difference between gender and sex. One person wrote that she had volunteered at her grand mother’s place, which is not the kind of volunteering that I had in mind. There were few questions and the questions were short and simple, thus few opportunities were given to express and explain thoughts and values. Two people who have answered similarly on the questionnaire does not necessarily have the same view on volunteering. The small number of questions was intended in order to gather many answers, and the data wanted was quantitative and not qualitative. However, some of the conclusions drawn from the answers to the questionnaire might not be falsifiable since they are very hard to test experimentally. One of these conclusions is the argument that women did not choose the answer “boring/unnecessary” in table 2 because it is less normatively accepted for a woman to think that. The conclusion was drawn purely from qualified guesses and assumptions, without any empirical evidence.

The choice of test subjects was not random, and my prejudice might subconsciously have played a role in deciding who to ask. I tried to ask as ‘neutral’ people as possible, for example old school mates and people I don’t know well, but I cannot deny that many of the participants either play badminton or attend BB high school. Supposedly, the badminton players have volunteered in sports, and the people from BB high school do not have much free time. These factors might have affected the results, and the 100 people might not have been representative for the society. 52 of the asked people chose to not answer, which might be a source of error as well. It is possible that less altruistic people have a smaller tendency to answer questionnaires as they are not directly self-beneficial. I might have been able to gather more answers if I had posted the questionnaire publicly instead of asking every person individually but I suspect that the chance of people answering – truthfully – is bigger when being asked personally. Also they had the chance to ask me questions if anything was unclear. A problem is that people who do not have Facebook was excluded in this research. Even though age, ethnic, religious, socio-economic factors were disregarded in the research question more time could have been spent in finding a larger spread among participants.

The statistics are not very accurate since they are gathered only among those who are members on the RKUF web page, and sex was determined by looking at the names, which is not always accurate. The original idea was to contact the administrator of RKUF who has the member statistics in numbers, but she is currently on a parental leaf and no replacement has been found yet. Some people choose to not become a member on the web site, and some who are members on the web site are not active volunteers. This means that the statistics are misleading, but since the average difference between males and females is 400%, I believe that possible discrepancy is within the error range for my investigation.

To improve the questionnaire, the subjects should be chosen randomly. Also, more variables should be controlled. More accurate statistics is also needed to enhance the credibility of the research.

The interviews were used to enhance the validity of the questionnaire, but the reliability of these answers and the conclusions drawn cannot be guaranteed either. The questions could have been more to-the-point, and some of the information gathered is not at all relevant to this paper. I found it very interesting to interview these people and had a hard time staying to the topic.

Reflection on results
One exception to the results of the sex-distribution in the boards is in the FS with 4 female members and 5 male members, which is odd because the committee is supposed to reflect the organisation. However, this might reflect the society today, which has a majority of males in power positions[18][19]. As B said, the decision of board members is to a great extent made by the nominating committee, but that there are probably more males than females candidating. One possible explanation is, again, norms, which say that it is more right for males to run for power positions than females, which makes the females feel like they have to be ‘better’ before they can candidate.

I was surprised that neither B nor K mentioned the sex-distribution until I brought it up since both of them were aware of the, describing it as “extremely unbalanced” (B) and “catastrophic” (K). Possibly, B does not notice the difference to the same extent as he is sitting in the male dominant FS, but both he and K underlines the importance of attracting more males to RKUF. However, in one way I believe that the sex-distribution is not something they have in there minds every day when working with RKUF since male and female volunteers are supposedly similar. It might sound controversial, but in a way that can also be an argument for the norms being the main factor; male and female volunteers are not different even though they are of different sexes.

In the questionnaire, the participants who had never volunteered and knew the least about the Red Cross were generally the most reluctant to volunteer in a humanitarian organisation. The majority of the people that chose “other” as the answer for “Why are you not volunteering in a humanitarian organisation” and a majority of the people that did not find the existence of the Red Cross in Sweden important explained that they did not have enough trust that the organisations do what they should, and that they waste money on the wrong things. This is certainly a problem for the organisations to solve, but this also shows of a misconception, since volunteering does not directly involve money. Also both non-volunteers in the interviews associated volunteering in humanitarian organisation with hippies, something that neither of the volunteers mentioned. True or false, but since this is also a norm and stereotype issue, it might affect the choice to volunteer or not as well.

[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/humanitarian

[2] http://www.sok.se/osiskolan/osfakta/olympiskaringarna.4.5f13b5361230899f91780001454.html

[3] http://www.redcross.se/om-oss/sa-har-arbetar-vi/grundprinciper/

[4] A. Bäcklund, C. Andersson Bonnevier, M. Anlér ”15 år av kärlek och respekt med Röda Korsets Ungsdomsförbund”

[5] ”Arbets- och delegationsordning för Röda Korsets Ungdomsförbund”, adopted by FS 7-10 October 2011

[6] [http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/rs/2008/10Gender%20Altruism%20for%20publication.pdf

[7] http://www.sociologyguide.com/basic-concepts/Social-Norms.php

[8] [Sociology – themes and perspectives, p. 688].

[9] http://www.sociology.org.uk/methfi.pdf
[10] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo7o2LYATDc&feature=share

[11] http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-butl.htm

[12] http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195341065.001.0001/acprof-9780195341065-chapter-2

[13] http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/61/3/413/

[14] http://rkuf.se/blog/uncategorized/forst-till-kvarn-pa-platserna-till-move/

[15] http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/rs/2008/10Gender%20Altruism%20for%20publication.pdf

[16] http://lbms03.cityu.edu.hk/oaps/ss2007-4708-wms591.pdf

[17] http://midus.wisc.edu/findings/pdfs/369.pdf

[18] http://rod.se/sites/default/files/Grafik%20könsfördelning.pdf

[19] http://www.scb.se/Pages/ThematicAreaTableAndChart____327822.aspx





B. Personal interview. 2012-04-08 (translated from Swedish):

I am writing a research paper about volunteering in humanitarian organisations, with focus on RKUF. How come you started to volunteer with the RKUF, from the first beginning?

  • As most other people, I wanted to learn something and to broaden my perspective. And because there are so many possibilities, to help people in need.

Do you think the same argument goes for everyone who volunteers here?

  • Well no, I think there are many different reasons.

Like what?

  • For example, some people want to learn something and get experience, especially the ones who are engaged a shorter time. I think all volunteers feel passionate about something, but about different things. For example the organisation, or the work, or particular questions.

So why do you think some people chose to not volunteer with RKUF, or another humanitarian organisation?

  • Either they don’t have an interest in it, or they don’t have enough time. Many people have some kind of mental obstacle.

What do you mean by ‘mental obstacle’?

  • They believe that it takes a lot of time, and that you don’t get anything back. But I don’t think that is true.

Do you think there is any distinct characteristics for volunteers; some kind of pattern in who becomes a volunteer or not?

  • Yes, there is a distinction. RKUF is a very homogeneous group, though volunteers in general can be very different since there are so many different areas, like sports for example. We are very bad at reaching out to different target groups

How are we homogeneous, and which groups are we missing?

  • First of all, age wise. Many of the volunteers in RKUF are older than 20 years – in some local associations almost everyone is over 20. One reason can be that we are bad at adapting our language.

How is your language?

  • Very academic, and maybe a bit formal. We also have a under representation of people from socio-economically weak areas.

What about the sex-distribution?

  • We have around 1100 volunteers, and an extreme over representation of the female sex.


  • I actually don’t know. Maybe because that’s the norm. Volunteering does not fit in the male stereotype, it’s a female thing. And maybe also because the way we communicate, and our appearance.

So how is your appearance?

  • Well, that’s what we have to find out! But maybe guys feel less welcome.

Why would they?

  • Maybe not less welcome, but they might feel like their competence is not needed, or maybe no one has ever asked them to become a volunteer.

But how does this unbalance affect the work of RKUF?

  • In the projects, I don’t think it affects very much, but generally it is of course good with a balance between the sexes. Especially in projects where we meet young people, it is good that they get to meet both male and female volunteers to look up to. Most of the ‘leaders’ in RKUF are females, for example the president of FS has always been a female from what I can remember. This is not a problem though, only an establishment.

How does the sex-distribution look like in the FS then?

  • Last year there were more females than males, but this year there are five males and four females. I don’t think it has that big significance, it is always going to be more of one sex as long as we have nine board members in FS. Of course it would be a problem if the guys takes too much space since there are more girls in the organisation, but this year it hasn’t been a problem. Everyone has been taking a lot of space.

How come there are more males than females in FS when the situation is the opposite amongst the other volunteers?

  • Ask the nominating committee. But there are probably more males that candidate, I don’t know why. In the local associations, it seems to be more girls. Weird.

Okay, so as you might have figured out, I have a main focus on the sex-distribution in RKUF, and I have the same thesis as you had – that the norms of society say that females should volunteer, and males shouldn’t. And as an actively volunteering male, can you notice these prejudices?

  • You mean in a negative way? No, I have never received any negative feedback from the surroundings because of my sex – rather positive actually. Maybe it would be worse for a person who is already outside normative to work as a volunteer. However, people have asked me why I work for free. But this is my hobby, that I like to do during my free time, and besides I do get a lot back so I wouldn’t say it is for free.


K. Personal interview. 2012-05-03 (Translated from Swedish):

I am writing a research paper about volunteering in humanitarian organisations, with focus on RKUF. How come you started to volunteer with the RKUF, from the first beginning?

  • I want to make the world more equal, and we should help when we can. To be engaged in RKUF is a concrete way to help; you really see that you’re making a difference.

Do you think everyone volunteers for that reason?

  • No, I think it is different for all volunteers. Some people might feel guilty that they have a better life than some other people, and choose to volunteer in order to clean their conscience. Another reason might be to find new friends, especially in the youth association I think, because it’s fun to meed other people with the same interests.

So why do you think some people chose not to volunteer?

  • Oh gosh… Lack of time? Some people feel like they don’t have enough time. Some think that it doesn’t matter, what we’re doing, and that we are naïve doing it. But some people might have other interests and actually don’t have enough time.

Do you think the people active in RKUF is a special group of people?

  • Yes, we are all very socially aware generally. We don’t only know that some people are poor, we know WHY people are poor, and WHY injustices exist. A majority of us come from middle- or upper-class families, with a stable background, so we feel like we can help others. There are probably also people who have received help from the Red Cross earlier and want to ‘pay back’. We are engaged, optimistic people.

And what do you think of the sex-distribution?

  • Catastrophic! Catastrophic, really. Especially if you compare us to other youth associations, for example the political ones – they are much more equal in sex-distribution. Especially in organisations where there exists power positions, there are more males. We don’t decide in the same way as politicians, and it’s a pity that not more guys are interested in us.

How do you notice this maldistribution?

  • Mostly when they (males) are needed, in projects where they’re asking for male volunteers, and we have to say no and explain it. Also, we have a strong feeling of sisterhood, we’re nice to each other and take care of each other. I don’t know if it is because of the lack of males, but the atmosphere seems to be warmer.

Are there any more negative consequences of this?

  • We (RKUF) are not taken as seriously. Instead of being seen as an organisation that fights for everyone’s best, we become an exceptional group, which does not reflect society as a whole. We don’t get as much legitimacy, which might make us less influential in politics – just because we are so few. People see us as a group of naïve girls who think that we can change the world instead of a serious organisation for everyone. I notice it myself when I’m talking to people at fairs, and they tell us that we are a nice organisation. That is good, but we don’t only want to be nice – we want to be seen as an important organisation.

How then can we attract more males to the organisation?

  • Well, we have to be conscious about our way to advertise. I don’t think we should tell everyone that there is a lack of males because that might sound frightening. It is important for us to try to have a even sex-distribution at exhibitions, and where people see us, even though this is not reflecting the actual situation. And we also have to put more emphasis on what we are actually doing! Many people probably have prejudices about what we are doing, for example first aid, but we also have homework-groups, immigrant and refugee-projects, etcetera. This knowledge might attract more volunteer overall, but also males.

Is there a different sex-distribution in the association boards compared to the projects?

  • Not in the youth association… or it depends! In our board there is usually one guy and the rest are girls, which represents the organisation pretty well. But generally there are often more guys in the board if you think relatively, compared with the distribution in the organisation overall. This might be a conscious choice by the nominating committee, because when a equal board represents the local association more males might want to join. However, it is a little ironic that the last president of the Swedish Red Cross was a male – that is definitely not representative. It is fine that there are males in the board, but that was a little over the top.

Do you think there is a difference between the choices of a girl and a boy to volunteer or not?

  • No, I think the reasons for not volunteering are the same. Or to not get engaged, boys might choose other non-profit organisations, like political youth associations. But when it comes to the Red Cross, maybe we have a nice image that maybe doesn’t attract males as well as the images of political associations, which have a tougher image, power-image. We put very little emphasis on power. We have a too nice image. Politicians fit in the male norm, whilst RKUF is an too soft and naïve organisation.

Okay, as you might have understood, the main focus of this paper is on the sex-distribution. Do you have any more thoughts of this topic, that we haven’t talked about?

  • It is a pity that we have to fight to find engaged guys! Especially since our objective is to help people in need, and there is a great demand for male volunteers. So it’s not because it looks nice in the membership list, but because there is a need. Otherwise an all-girl organisation would do.


Female non-volunteer. Personal interview. 2012-05-08:

I am writing my research paper about the Red Cross, and volunteering, are you a member of or a volunteer at the Red Cross?

  • No, I’m not.

Okay, first three quick questions: Do you know what the Red Cross does?

  • Actually no, I don’t know that much about the Red Cross. It has not been one of those things… I know that it’s mostly about helping people, in different situations I guess.

Have you heard of the RKUF?

  • Yeah I think so.

And do you know what they do?

  • No, not specifically.

Now to the ‘real’ questions: why are you not a volunteer?

  • Because I haven’t been asked or felt that kind of want to do it necessarily, I haven’t though of it really. I’ve thought of volunteering but not with the Red Cross. I haven’t really felt a strong drive. It hasn’t been one if the things I’ve wanted to do. Well, once in a while I’ve been putting a coin in those things, and I have this idea that I want to, well after the gymnasium or something, I might volunteer somewhere, travel around, learn Arabic, travel around some countries, help people, countries, you know…

So why do you think other people chose not to volunteer in a humanitarian organisation?

  • I think it’s because… I think its a lot to do with culture – in some cultures its bigger to volunteer and give money away to charity, and in other it’s not as big. And I think people who don’t volunteer don’t have enough time, or don’t want to put away their money and time into something they don’t really know about, that they’re not sure that they want to do. That they’re not passionate about, I think it has something to do with that.

And on the other hand, why do you think some people do volunteer?

  • It might either be a religious thing, or a cultural thing. Some people feel like being a good person, helping other people, is what you should do. Other people feel like, kinda, what is life, if other people have it worse than you and you can help them if you want. And you can’t live with not doing it. Some people just want to do something good for the world. Some people might have experienced it themselves – experienced starvation, being really poor, not having anyone on your side really, living in a country where they don’t have rights, where they’re not given the help they need. Caught between wars, things like that.

Do you think it is a special group of people who volunteer?

  • I don’t know, I think it depends on what has happened in your life, different events can lead to that path. Like if your stuck with a boring job and you’re so sick and tired of that, and starting to volunteer might feel like it gives your life a meaning. Some people can’t live with such an unfair world and want everyone to have a nice life. I definitely think its different, it depends on what they feel.

 What about things such as social status, age, sex etc?

  • Young people I think, during this age you have a lot of opinions and you’re not tied down by work and family. This is a time when I think a lot of people want to volunteer. I think a lot of old people as well that have gotten their pension. And middle aged people as well. As for the economy, I think it depends. But a lot of, maybe, since we live in a country with a lot of middle class people, probably… Its really difficult to say. I know it is… No i don’t think it really depends on this. There are people who earn a lot and don’t give anything away, and people who earn a little and don’t give anything either. I think its quite equal. As long as you ear something you can give away some if you want.

What about sex?

  • I don’t know. Maybe I think its pretty equal too. Though… I think its got a little to do what time, like during 60’s, it was peace and hippie revolution, and a lot of people, I don’t think sex was really important.

And today?

  • I still… I don’t know… it’s a tough one. I guess… I don’t know. Probably kind of equal. Maybe it depends on the kind of charity. Different charities have different… more of one sex. I think its really mixed. About equal. I don’t think sex has a big part of it. I don’t think your sex really dictates what you’re passionate about. I think there are so many different the Red Cross does really… anybody could be interested in it. It’s not just one thing, there’s a lot of different things and different people can find something they’re passionate about.

I wish you were right, but the fact is that there is a lot more females than males volunteering. What do you think about that, why do you think that is?

  • I don’t know really, a lot of it has to do with culture, probably. Charity has been seen as something housewives in the past participated in and contributed to. That kind of mentality might have continued living. Like, working as a volunteer, with charity, is not something manly. I think if that mentality changes, if we’re brought up as equals maybe – like there’s not that big of a difference between males and females – I think it would be a lot more mixed!


Male non-volunteer. Electronic interview. 2012-05-11 (translated from Swedish):

My research paper is about volunteering in humanitarian organisation, and I have now interviewed two people who are volunteers, and one who is not. Are you, or have you ever been, active in an organisation such as the Red Cross?

  • I’m not, and I have never been.

Why are you not?

  • I haven’t seen a reason to be a part of it, and no one has ever asked me so I have never been introduced to that really.

Would you like to become a volunteer if someone asked you then?

  • No, I don’t think so, I don’t feel attracted by the idea, and I don’t think that I’d enjoy it.

But do you think it is good that organisations such as the Red Cross exist?

  • Yes, I think it’s good that they exist even though I am not very engaged or interested.

Why do you think people chose to not be engaged, apart from yourself?

  • Because it required motivation and time, and I don’t think everyone sees it as something rewarding.

And on the other hand, why do you think some people are engaged?

  • Because they feel like they can make a difference. And because they think it is fun to help people.

Do you think there is a specific group of people who become active with these sorts of things, if you understand what I mean?

  • Yes, I think it’s the aesthetic type. Not hipster, but kind of hippie, in a 21st century way, if you get that.

I think I do. So how would you describe that in terms of socio-economic class, age, sex and such?

  • Age, either young or overgrown hippie. Either lower-class or upper-class. sex mixed, but more women.

And why do you think it is like this?

  • They want to help people, and they have the energy. And they have a lot of time. And so on.

So does that make women more suitable than men?

  • Yes, they are more helpful and care for others.

Would that be nature or nurture?

  • Evolution! Women help people, men fight against tigers. Or something like that.

So my thesis is that more females than males are engaged in volunteering because the norm say that it is a female thing to be engaged in humanitarian organisations. What do you think about that?

  • I think that might be very true. I don’t really know why, but I guess it is a common conception.

So people usually believe that the woman should take care of others while the man fight against tigers?

  • Exactly!


[1]   Definition of humanitarian http://dictionary.reference.com/

[2]    The Olympic committee of Sweden

[3]    Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross

[4]    A. Bäcklund et al, ”15 år av kärlek och respekt med Röda Korsets Ungsdomsförbund”

[5]    ”Arbets- och delegationsordning för Röda Korsets Ungdomsförbund”

[6]    Lacey D. Seefeldt Gender Stereotypes Associated with Altrustic Acts

[7]    Sociology guide, ”Social norms”

[8]    [Sociology – themes and perspectives, p. 688].

[9]    Socioloy Research Skills: Research Methods

[10]  Judith  Butler (Big Think), ”Our behaviour creates our gender”

[11]  Resources: Judith Butler http://www.theory.org.uk/

[12]  C. Daniel Batson, ”Altruism in humans”

[13]  Batson et al, ”Empathic joy and the empathy-altruism hypothesis”

[14]  ”Välkommen till MOVE 2011!”

[15]  Lacey D. Seefeldt,”Gender Stereotypes Associated with Altrustic Acts”

[16]  Woo man Sze. Zisi, ” Gender and cultural differences in empathy-altruism hypothesis  among university students in Hong Kong”

[17]  “Men’s and Women’s Volunteering: Gender Differences in the Effects of Employment and Family Characteristics”

[18]  Riksdag och Departement, ”Könsfördelning bland ordförarna av statliga kommittéer år 2011”

[19]  Statistics Sweden



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