Voluntary associations are significant mechanisms by which migrants can be integrated into a new urban milieu, yet not all individuals or sectors of city populations belong to them. While it is widely accepted that associations have a role to play in urban west Africa by offering welfare services (Little, 1965), providing political outlets in the broad sense of that term (Wallerstein, 1966), or defining status (Eisenstadt, 1956), little is known about the configurations of membership (but see Meillassoux, 1968). In order to understand more fully the part that voluntary associations play in the lives of city dwellers it is still necessary to ask fundamental questions. For example:
1) What percentages of urban populations actually belong to, and are active in, voluntary associations?
2) What kinds of voluntary associations are preferred?
3) Who belongs to what kinds of associations?
In other words we still need to know to whom voluntary associations are important and to whom they are relatively unimportant.
This essay addresses itself to these questions by examining voluntary association behavior among residents of one suburban neighborhood of Lagos, Nigeria. In so doing it argues that membership varies substantially according to ethnicity and sex. Yoruba and Ibo-speaking residents are known for their high level of participation in several types of voluntary associations, yet Hausa-speaking residents rarely join any but religious groups. The same contrast can be made between men and women, whose membership preferences are not necessarily similar. Examination of the variables of sex and ethnicity, therefore, begins to provide membership profiles of the various types of associations, but these factors do not stand alone.