genme (genme) wrote,

More on volunteering

If you've read or heard about generations, you've probably heard the current crop of young people (born after 1982) described as "Millienials." (A term I'm not sure will stick ... remember Y2K? Barely? Exactly). Some people have advanced the theory that this generation is civically minded and group-oriented.

However, there is very little evidence that this is true. Instead, the analyses highlighted in Generation Me (based on historical survey data on over 1.3 million people) show clearly that younger generations are more individualistic and are higher in self-esteem and narcissism. There have been no changes in "communal" traits. These are not anecdotal observations -- they are based on young people's responses to psychological questionnaires over many decades.

The piece of evidence often given to support the "civically-oriented" agrument is the rise in youth volunteering. Yes, increasing numbers of high school and college students report that they have volunteered their time in the last year. However, the trend for those who volunteer their time once a week or more is completely flat, and the number who volunteer once a month has barely budged (maybe 3-5%). (These data come from the "Monitoring the Future" survey out of the University of Michigan).

So young people volunteer, but they do it once or only a few times. This might be because many high schools and colleges require community service (or colleges like to see it on admissions applications). So even the rise in short-term volunteering might instead be "involuntary volunteering."

It's great that more young people are volunteering, whatever the reason. But it doesn't seem to be a sustained activity -- and in many cases it's not even voluntary.
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