Volunteer work is predominantly a privilege of the well-to-do. It is useful work performed mainly by women in social service, educational and political organizations. While voluntaryism can be construed as "pseudo-work", the unpaid work of millions of women in Canada and the U.S., represents considerable savings to governments in the provision of direct services to children, and the elderly.
Historically, women's volunteer, unpaid work has initiated many a social service organization, which was later taken over by the government, institutionalized and professionalize. Cut-backs in social and educational spending have caused a larger portion of this work to revert to women's volunteer labor.
Some scholars, because of the essential nature of women's volunteer work, call it "social maintenance" or "social construction" when performed in the community (Kahn-Hut et al., 1982) and "status producing" When it improves their families' standing ( Papanek, 1979).
Women in developing countries also devote many hours to this type of work, which makes communities function more smoothly and helps to attain national development or revolutionary goals. However, no matter how "progressive" a government, vestiges of sex bias remain. For example, the back of a Cuban matchbox reads "Toda la Fuerza de la Mujer al Servicio de la Revolucion" (All the strength of women to the service of the revolution). Such exhortations are presumably less needed for men, who are already fully committed to work, while women do not 'pull their weight'. Yet, recent research on Cuban and Nicaraguan women shows that, when domestic work is taken into consideration, women work longer hours than men.
Women's voluntary, unpaid work, while indispensable for the family, community and nation, reinforces the stereotype that women do not need to work for pay and that their work is not essential elsewhere.