World Values Survey (Canada) Immigrant and native born respondent comparisons

6. Voluntary associations

If levels of trust among the three groups are similar and generally high, do these levels of trust, as social capital theory predicts, correspond to high levels of involvement in voluntary associations? The 2006 WVS contains a variety of questions that allow us to explore that hypothesis directly.

The WVS asks all respondents: "Could you tell me whether you are an active member, an inactive member or not a member of that type of organization?" Respondents are then asked to report their level of involvement in wide variety of groups including: Church or religious organizations; sport or recreational organizations; art, music and education organizations; labour unions; political parties; environmental organizations; professional associations; humanitarian or charitable organizations; consumer organizations; and ethnic associations. The results for each of the ten different organizational types are summarized in Table 6-1.

Question: 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? Results reported are for "active" members.

Table 6-1: Active membership in organizations
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
Church or Religious 27.3% 37.6% 23.7%
Sport or Recreational 25.6% 24.6% 18.2%
Art, Music or Educational 19.9% 21.8% 20.5%
Labour Union 13.7% 8.8% 5.7%
Political Party 4.9% 5.4% 2.1%
Environmental Organization 5.5% 7.4% 6.2%
Professional Association 16.7% 19.3% 17.0%
Humanitarian or Charitable Organization 20.6% 26.2% 13.7%
Consumer Organization 3.8% 4.8% 3.9%
Ethnic Association 2.7% 10.8% 13.5%

N = 2,638
Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Levels of involvement in voluntary associations are measured by simply recording the number of voluntary associations in which an individual is involved. In general, the expectation is that individuals involved in more associations are less isolated than those involved in few or none.

The data show, on balance, that recent immigrants are less likely than others to be active members of voluntary associations (Figure 6-1). 42.6 percent of recent immigrants report no active memberships in any of the ten voluntary associations, compared to 28.0 percent and 36.7 percent earlier immigrants and Canadian born respondents respectively (Table 6-2). But notice also that the recent immigrants are exceptional in one important respect; they are more likely than their earlier counterparts and Canadian born respondents, to be members of ethnic associations.

Table 6-2: Active membership in voluntary associations
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
3 or more 20.6% 25.7% 16.3%
2 active memberships 17.8% 19.3% 16.1%
1 active membership 24.9% 27.0% 25.1%
None 36.7% 28.0% 42.6%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  (n=1,779) (n=300) (n=566)

N = 2,645
Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Figure 6-1: Reporting active membership in voluntary associations

Figure 6-1: Reporting active membership in voluntary associations
Text version: Reporting active membership in voluntary associations
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
27.3% 37.6% 23.7%
25.6% 24.6% 18.2%
19.9% 21.8% 20.5%
13.7% 8.8% 5.7%
4.9% 5.4% 2.1%
5.5% 7.4% 6.2%
16.7% 19.3% 17.0%
20.6% 26.2% 13.7%
3.8% 4.8% 3.9%
2.7% 10.8% 13.5%

Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Recent immigrants are not "joiners" in a general sense, but their associative inclinations tend to emerge where one would expect, namely, where the cultural transaction costs are lowest. Indeed, previous work using WVS data has found that new immigrants bring their "pre-migration" experiences to their new country. These inhibit initial adaptation to their new country (Bilodeau and Nevitte, 2007).

It is also entirely possible that structural factors create obstacles to involvement in associational life. Analysis of the European experience of immigrant integration in the political process shows that structural factors are a major barrier to widespread social and political participation inhibiting immigrant membership in voluntary associations (Bäck and Soininen, 1998). These barriers include cultural and linguistic differences; newcomers are more likely to face language barriers to wider participation. Then again, they often occupy the lower socioeconomic rungs in society (Schmitter, 1980). Newcomers face greater economic insecurity and these preoccupations trump greater involvement in voluntary association networks, at least in the short run.

To determine which structural factors work as barriers to associative involvement, we can turn to multivariate analysis. Level of active voluntary memberships of a respondent, in this case, is the dependent variable. Six indicators serve as independent variables: Trust is measured using the two trust indices measuring interpersonal and generalized trust. Four SES variables are also considered. Formal education and income may act as key impediments to participation in voluntary associations. Knowledge of the dominant language (French in Quebec, English in the rest of Canada) also matters; those without knowledge of the dominant language are less likely to be involved in associations. It is plausible that age may also matter: older individuals have had more time to participate in associational life than younger individuals (Knoke and Thomson, 1977).

Table 6-3: Determinants of voluntary association membership
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
B S.E. B S.E. B S.E.
Interpersonal trust .381 .229 -.325 .680 .928 .529
Generalized trust .573 at p < .01 .189 .121 .518 .017 .409
Age .077 .107 -.061 .268 -.044 .313
Income .527 at p < .01 .085 .651 at p < .01 .205 .073 .168
Knowledge of official language -.158 .129 .210 .181 .208 .134
Education .470 at p < .01 .080 .453 at p < .05 .205 -.997 at p < .01 .303
Constant .260 at p < .01 .072 .253 .190 .072 .140
Adjusted R2 .015   .018   .044  
N 1,410   233   477  

Source: 2006 World Values Survey

The determinants of, and barriers to, voluntary association membership vary between each group, as indicated in Table 6-3. Among Canadian born and earlier immigrant respondents, level of formal education and income remain the key predictors of associational membership; those with higher levels of education and higher levels of income are more involved. Moreover, the effects are in the predicted direction as the relative costs of involvement in voluntary associations to the individual are lower for those with greater resources. Generalized trust is associated with involvement for Canadian born respondents, but it is not a significant predictor, net other factors, for earlier immigrants.

But the key results concern the findings for recent immigrants. The primary factor predicting voluntary association membership among the entered variables is education. Strikingly, education has a very different impact than expected. Recent immigrants with high levels of formal education are less likely to be involved. Unlike the cases of Canadian born and earlier immigrant respondents, higher education results in fewer memberships in voluntary associations for recent immigrants.

One possible explanation for this seemingly counter-intuitive finding, some speculate, concerns the credentials problem facing new immigrants; the problem of blocked labour mobility (Bauder, 2003). Those whose credentials are not recognized may be less likely to hold managerial positions, or even be employed in the field of their training (Boyd and Thomas, 2001). That interpretation remains speculative. But we note that only 27.9 percent have supervisory roles as work, compared to 39.1 percent of native-born Canadians and 50.8 percent of earlier immigrants. Moreover, only 34.7 percent of university educated recent immigrants say they are able to "save money in the past year", compared to 40.9 percent of Canadian born respondents and 42.9 percent of earlier immigrant respondents. The associational patterns of earlier immigrants are essentially the same as those from Canadian born respondents.

6.1. Discussion

The preceding analysis suggests that immigrants and non-immigrants differ along several dimensions. These differences can be summarized as follows:

Socioeconomic profile

  • Recent immigrants are younger, and more likely to have post-secondary education than earlier immigrants and Canadian born respondents.
  • Recent immigrants are less likely to have high levels of income or consider themselves as middle or upper class.
  • Recent immigrants are more likely to be married and have smaller family sizes than other Canadians.


  • Recent immigrants are less likely to identify as "religious" than earlier immigrant and Canadian born respondents.
  • Immigrants from East Asia and those with smaller family sizes are less likely to identify themselves as "religious".
  • Recent immigrants are more likely to participate in non-institutional religious and spiritual practices, but this personal spiritualism does not translate into greater participation in formal and institutional religious activities.

Immigration and citizenship

  • Canadian born respondents are much more likely than immigrants to favour stringent requirements for immigration. And they are less likely to think that cultural diversity is good for the country. This issue requires deeper analysis.
  • Those born in Canada with higher educational attainment and life satisfaction are more likely to support cultural diversity.
  • Among recent immigrants, the older and more educated respondents are more likely to support cultural diversity than the younger and less educated.
  • Canadian-born respondents are 10 times more likely than recent immigrants, and twice as likely as earlier immigrants, to feel that immigrants are treated "better than other Canadians". This question also requires a more detailed investigation.


  • Recent immigrants are less likely than their counterparts to strongly identify with any particular community. Rather, they are more likely to see themselves as "world citizens".


  • Recent immigrants report lower levels of interpersonal trust than earlier immigrants and Canadian born respondents. There is no statistical difference between the three groups when it comes to generalized trust.
  • Recent immigrants are somewhat more trustful of their own ethnic group than of other ethnic groups. 75.1 percent of recent immigrants trust their own ethnic group "somewhat" or "completely" compared to 66.9 percent of recent immigrants who trust other ethnic groups "somewhat" or "completely".

Voluntary associations

  • Recent immigrants are far less likely than others to be actively involved in voluntary associations.
  • Recent immigrants are far more likely than the other groups to be active members of ethnic associations.
  • Contrary to expectations, higher educational attainment is negatively related to membership in associations among recent immigrants. For Canadian born and earlier immigrant respondents, education, as well as income, is positively associated with membership in associations.

The socioeconomic profile of those arriving in the country within the past 10 years is quite distinct. Recent immigrants are young, highly educated individuals; they share many of the values of the rest of society. This report has focused on structural factors, and it appears that these structural factors do help to explain many of the differences and similarities between immigrants and non-immigrants.

The evidence indicates that exposure matters. The immigrants live in the country, the more 'integrated' they become; there is more convergence on key outlooks. Indeed, throughout the analysis, the characteristics of earlier immigrants position them between those of Canadian born respondents and recent immigrants. Other analyses of the WVS data support this conclusion: the impact that immigration has on creating societal cleavages is limited and short-lived (Bilodeau, White & Nevitte, 2005). Those findings apply to some patterns as associational memberships, and they also apply to more formal measures of political participation such as voting behaviour (see White et. al., 2008).

The analysis suggests at least two areas where immigrants and non-immigrants diverge to a significant degree. First, what are the particular causes and implications of the divide between immigrants and non-immigrants when it comes to outlooks on cultural diversity? Are native-born Canadians becoming increasingly anti-immigrant? Second, why are recent immigrants, even the most highly educated of the group, less likely to be "joiners"? Moreover, why does education encourage Canadian born and earlier immigrant respondents to join associations, while it appears to be a barrier for recent immigrants? These questions raise important issues about immigration policy in Canada. They merit closer investigation.

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