New parents and older people who have passed middle age are less likely to take up volunteering. Picture: Flickr.com

London - Marriage and going to church on a Sunday really may make you a better person, a study suggests.

Those who are married and religious are more likely to volunteer in the community.

Educated people with higher incomes are also keen to help others, according to a review of the types of people who volunteer.

New parents and older people who have passed middle age are less likely to take up volunteering, according to academics who analysed 24 studies on volunteering, including British, American and European participants. 

They suggest married people have more "social resources", which some experts take to mean that marriage brings more friends. A larger friendship group can make people care more about those around them, so encouraging them to volunteer. Churchgoers are likely to be presented with more religious volunteering opportunities.

The authors of the review, led by Jacobien Niebuur at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, state: "We found that socioeconomic status, being married, social network size, church attendance and previous volunteer experience are positively associated with volunteering."

The results, they add, could help to "target potential volunteers", who studies suggest are less likely to become depressed or disabled because of the health benefits of their time helping others.

The review found marriage is most important in driving people to volunteer at a young age, with previous studies suggesting married couples volunteer together because their lives are intertwined. The new friends someone makes through their spouse may also tell them about volunteering.

People with a larger social network were generally bigger volunteers, according to the analysis, as were higher educated people, according to 11 out of 13 studies.

Older people were less likely to volunteer. The research, published in the journal BMC Public Health, said those in poor health are less likely to volunteer, which may explain older people’s unwillingness.