The Third Centre Research Centre has published research that raises questions about some of the key thinking behind the big society.
Mapping the Big Society, a two-year project by three researchers at the University of Southampton, located where voluntary organisations are based and which people make the biggest contribution to civil life.
It found that 40 per cent of organisations work at neighbourhood level and that 31 per cent of the population provide 87 per cent of voluntary hours and 79 per cent of charitable giving
From this, the researchers identified a "civic core" of people who contribute a disproportionate amount of time and money.
Those in it are likely to be middle-aged, well-educated and based in prosperous areas.
John Mohan, deputy director of the TSRC, a collaborative venture between the universities of Southampton and Birmingham, said the research suggested it might be better to take a city-wide approach to localism rather than the more inward focus of projects such as Your Square Mile so that poor areas could benefit from the civic core’s altruism.
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said it welcomed the TSRC's ongoing research.
"Social action is at the heart of the big society and it is encouraging to see that a majority of people already give time and money to help their communities," she said. "We want to build on this tremendous work and make it easier for all communities to do more for themselves, building a bigger, stronger society."
Read our interview with John Mohan