Memberships in voluntary associations can provide access to valuable social resources. Generally focusing on high- and middle-income countries, research has demonstrated that to varying degrees in different societies, women have fewer memberships in voluntary associations than men. This study examines membership in voluntary associations globally and thereby the national characteristics that drive the gender disparity. The national characteristics we examine include development and inequality. We argue that two theories researchers have used to explain individual-level memberships—the resource perspective and homophily theory—also apply to contextual influences on joining associations. Using data from multiple waves of the World Values Survey, we employ multilevel models to analyze the relationship between national context and the individual vis-à-vis gender differences in memberships in voluntary associations. We find that macro-level resources such as the level of development, as well as macro-level heterogeneity in the form of economic inequality and indicators of gender inequality, significantly predict membership. However, macro-level heterogeneity explains gender gaps while macro-level resources do not. The findings of this study are applicable to countries spanning the full development spectrum and offer a new explanation of how social structures of inequality reproduce and create inequality at the individual level.

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