A Comparison of Association Membership in Fifteen Countries


I am putting together data for an article in Global Link newsletter for the ASAE International Section Council. I came across a great paper that reported on comparative association membership in 15 industrialized nations. Unfortunately, the paper was presented in 1992 and drew data from the World Values Survey completed in 1983. Since then at least four additional World Values surveys have been done.

The 2005 World Values Survey included the question:

“Now I am going to read off a list of voluntary organizations. For each one, could you tell me whether you are an active member, an inactive member or not a member of that type of organization?”

It listed among nine types of memberships, “professional associations”. However, I have not seen anyone take these survey responses and do the association analysis again. Have any of you seen it?

So the 1992 study will have to serve as a benchmark for now.

The study showed that US membership in associations was substantially ahead of any of the other 14 nations.

At the highest levels, these nations broke out as follows:

US -- 72.7%
Sweden -- 68.1%
Northern Ireland -- 67.4%
Netherlands -- 62.8%

At the low end, memberships broke out as follows:

Spain --30.8%
France – 27.2%
Italy – 25.9%

However, the study noted, that much of the membership levels for the US came from participation in religious based memberships.

“Our data indicate that 55 percent of Americans have church or religious memberships. Except for Northern Ireland at 52 percent, every other nation is at least 20 percentage points below the American figure and in six of the countries (Belgium, France, Italy, Japan, Norway, and Sweden) less than 10 percent of respondents report membership in a church or religious organization.”

With both religious and union affiliation removed from the membership numbers, the US falls to second place with 41.2 % of those surveyed holding membership in an association. The Netherlands were first with 43.6% participation.

After reviewing the raw data, the study then controlled for social background factors and ran the data again. Based on this view,

“When both church and union memberships are excluded, there is no longer a statistically significant difference between the United States on the one hand and Canada, Great Britain, or Northern Ireland on the other hand. In addition, membership levels for Australia and the Netherlands are now significantly higher than the U.S. level, whereas without controls these two nations were not significantly different from the United States. Both the Netherlands and Australia have expected ratios of members to nonmembers that are approximately 1.5 times larger than the U.S. ratio.”

Let me know if you have any more recent data on membership participation levels by nation.

Voluntary Association Membership in Fifteen Countries: A Comparative Analysis
James E. Curtis; Edward G. Grabb; Douglas E. Baer
American Sociological Review, Vol. 57, No. 2. (Apr.,1992), pp. 139-152.

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