Over the past decade the volunteer rate in many countries has declined. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics about 1 in 4 Americans volunteered through an organization and nearly two-thirds helped their neighbors last year, demonstrating that service to others continues to be a priority for millions despite the slight drop in numbers. But there are some bright spots and generational surprises buried in those stats. It turns out that one generation is volunteering more than they ever have.
So who volunteers the most? Generation X (those born between 1965 to 1980) leads volunteering among generations in the United States. Generation X had a volunteer rate of 28.9 percent, followed by Baby Boomers at 25.7 percent. One in five (21.9 percent) of Millennials (those born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s) volunteered during the same time. But these numbers are shifting.
The award for most improved goes to…
Millennials are volunteering more with each passing year. When it comes to volunteer hours per person this generation is ticking up as most other generations are decreasing donated time. According to the book Thrive by Ariana Huffington, millennials will soon be in the lead for volunteer hours, dispelling the common belief that they are lazy and selfish. A recent report found that more than one-third of millenials volunteered 11 hours or more last year. Another study found that 46% of millennials volunteered for a cause affiliated with a social issue they care about in the past month.
Why are millennials volunteering more and more? It could be because of something as simple as optimism. A survey by the Pew Research Center found that, whereas a generation ago, when Baby Boomers were in their 20s, they held a gloomier view of the future than older generations. It turns out the reverse is true of millennials, with the youngest generation showing the most optimism. Today, 49 percent of millennials say the country’s best years are ahead, compared to 42 percent of Gen Xers, 44 percent of Baby Boomers and 39 percent of the Silent Generation.
According to The Millennial Impact Report we see that millennials are a charitable, thoughtful generation who believe that they can leave the world a better place than they’ve found it. In fact, 90% of millennials think people like them can have an impact in the world to make it a better place to live.
When it comes to volunteering everyone benefits. Human beings are so wired to give that our genes actually reward us for giving and punish us when we don’t. A study by scientists from the University of North Carolina and UCLA found that participants whose happiness was mostly devoted to receiving had high levels of biological markers that promote inflammation. Inflammation is linked to diabetes, cancer and other poor health conditions. Those whose happiness included service to others had health profiles showing reduced levels of these markers. The benefits of giving are boundless.
A recent Harvard study demonstrated that volunteering at least once a week yields improvements to your well-being. We could go on and on.
Organizations like Up with People, who value service to others as a key component of their mission, make volunteering a priority in their programs. For example, in every community Up with People visits while circling the globe cast members (who happen to be millennials) complete 800-1000 hours per week of volunteer work during two to four Community Action Days, working with hundreds of agencies and a wide variety of causes each year.
No matter what generation you call your own, let’s all make volunteering a priority in the new year!