Volunteerism — A Unique Trait in American Culture


Volunteering is as American as apple pie. Americans love to rise to a challenge and prove they have the gumption to make a bad situation better. That's as true today after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Marie as it was after Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina and long before.

It used to be that 25-44 year olds were the most likely to volunteer. That age group is actually declining in volunteerism, but other groups are stepping up.

The Social Capital Project, led by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, studies the impact and importance of "associational life," in other words the "web of social relationships through which we pursue joint endeavors—namely, our families, our communities, our workplaces, and our religious congregations." (TPOH can't argue with that!)

It recently released a report that took a look at Gallup polling and the Current Population Survey to discover some interesting facts about the current state of volunteerism.

Here's a quick rundown of some of the findings:

1) Volunteering is more common in the North than in the South, with Utah leading the way overall.

2) Volunteerism is up at social and community service groups, environmental or animal care organizations, and organizations that don't fit a regular category. Thirty-four percent of volunteers primarily do their service at religious organizations.

3) Women volunteer more than men, and women with full-time jobs volunteer more than men with no job.

4) Married Americans are 50 percent more likely to have volunteered than those who never married.

5) Volunteer rates rose for adults over 44, and Americans under 25, while adults ages 25 to 44 volunteer less than they used to. However, this age group is larger now than in prior-year comparisons, meaning that population data show a high number of volunteers despite a percentage decline.

6) People with a college degree are nearly three times as likely to have volunteered in the past year as those with less than a high school degree, and those making $100,000 or volunteer at a much higher rate than individuals from households making less than $20,000 (This is probably explained by the notion that people with less education and lower incomes need to focus on helping themselves before helping others).

7) Volunteering is most common among non-Hispanic whites, 27 percent, than among African Americans, and "other races", both at 18 percent, and Hispanics at 14 percent. This gap, however, is narrowing.

The report's conclusion:

Volunteerism is the rare indicator of social capital that has not worsened (or even rarer, that has improved) over the last 40 years. However, there is clear divergence across states in rates of volunteering as well as divisions along demographic and socioeconomic lines.