Association Membership 50 Years Ago


To support research we are doing related to membership marketing, one of my colleagues came across a study that I wanted to share. It is one of those little gems that you are excited to find. It gives us a snapshot of membership in associations 50 years ago.

The research was published in 1957 from a study initiated in 1947. The purpose of the study was to understand the predictors and demographics of people who joined voluntary associations.

As the author wrote:

“Preliminary to an adequate understanding of voluntary associations or their relation to other social structures and processes, it is most necessary to know what kinds of persons join what types of associations and to get a better appreciation of the kinds and degrees of membership participation. Toward a fuller understanding of these and related questions, this study is directed.”

To gain this understanding, the author took a sample of 400 households from the town of Bennington, Vermont and followed them over time. The survey participants defined voluntary associations as formal associations and societies, clubs, and special interest groups.

Among the authors findings are the following:

  • 35.8 percent of the persons in the sample had no membership in a voluntary association other than the church.

  • 75 percent of the men compared to 56 percent of the woman were members of voluntary associations.

  • The average duration of memberships held by the association members was 10 years.

  • Most of the memberships held are concentrated among a few people -- 15.1 percent of the total sample held 50.7 percent of the memberships.

  • Membership participation in voluntary associations increases with the increase in education.

  • The age group of 40 to 54 held the highest number of memberships.

  • The married had significantly greater voluntary association participation than those who were single.

  • People who reported that they had 50 friends or more had much greater membership participation than people with less than 50 friends.

  • 5.5 percent of the participants held memberships in professional or scientific associations.

  • The average annual expenditure for each voluntary association was $22.95.

The article concluded with the following description of a typical voluntary association member.

“The ideal [composite] voluntary association member in this community might be characterized as a forty-five year old married man of high social status who is a Protestant, a non-manual worker and possibly a son of native-born parents; who has two children, a college education, fifty or more ‘friends’, [and] his own home.”

Admittedly, the sample in the article is very limited, but how does this compare to your membership? How much has changed over 50 years? It would be very interesting to have this study done today in Bennington, VT to see how the world has changed. Any volunteers?


Membership and Participation in Voluntary Associations
John C. Scott, Jr.
American Sociological Review, Vol. 22, No. 3. (Jun., 1957), pp. 315-326.


1 comment:

Ben Martin, CAE said...

I'll bite. It looks a lot like our current membership profile. Male majority, 10 year average tenure, predominantly middle-aged. You can definitely see a shift coming in our membership profile reports, though. Females should be the majority in this association within 10-15 years.