Volunteerism in the United States: Between September 2001 and September 2002, More Than 1 in Every 4 Individuals Performed Volunteer Activities; Women, Students, and College Graduates Were Most Likely to Volunteer

By Boraas, Stephanie | Monthly Labor Review, August 2003 | Go to article overview

Volunteerism in the United States: Between September 2001 and September 2002, More Than 1 in Every 4 Individuals Performed Volunteer Activities; Women, Students, and College Graduates Were Most Likely to Volunteer


Boraas, Stephanie, Monthly Labor Review


About 59 million people, or 27.6 percent of the civilian noninstitutional population, volunteered through or for an organization at some point from September 2001 to September 2002. Volunteers are a major source of labor in the United States, performing a variety of important tasks and contributing considerable time and effort to meeting the needs of their communities. The data in this article come from a special supplement to the September 2002 Current Population Survey (CPS). (1) The supplement collected information on the incidence of volunteering, the number and type of organizations through or for which persons volunteered, total hours spent volunteering, how people became involved in volunteering, and the kinds of work they performed as volunteers. (2)

Incidence of volunteering

Some population groups are more likely than others to volunteer. Parents, for example, are likely to be involved with school or youth-related groups. Older people, many of whom are in the early years of retirement, are more likely to volunteer than young adults. High school students are increasingly participating in volunteer activities in order to fulfill community service requirements. College students receive information on volunteer opportunities from service groups on campus and from community groups that target the campus as a source of volunteers. In addition, many universities actively promote volunteering among students. (3)

During the September 2001-September 2002 reference period, women volunteered at a higher rate (31.1 percent) than did men (23.8 percent), a relationship that held across age groups, education levels, and other major demographic characteristics. The gap between the volunteer rates of men and women tended to be greater among groups with relatively high rates, such as whites and the more highly educated. (See table 1.)

Whites had a considerably higher volunteer rate (29.4 percent) than blacks (19.2 percent). Individuals of Hispanic origin, who may be of any race, had the lowest rate, at 15.7 percent. This pattern held true for all age groups.

People aged 35 to 54 years are more likely to volunteer than those who are younger or older. About 1 in 3 people between the ages of 35 and 54 volunteered, a rate that may be partly explained by the fact that a great many individuals of those ages have teenaged or younger children at home. Parents with their own children under age 18 were more likely to volunteer than persons with no children that age, with volunteer rates of 36.5 percent and 23.7 percent, respectively. Parents often volunteer for organizations in which their children participate. Partly because married people are more likely to have children than are unmarried people, volunteer rates were higher among married persons (32.7 percent) than among the never married (21.2 percent) or persons of other marital status (22.1 percent).

Among persons 65 years or over, the volunteer rate declined with age. For example, 26.3 percent of 65--to 69-year-olds volunteered, compared with 25.0 percent of 70- to 74-year-olds, 22.9 percent of 75- to 79-year-olds, and 16.1 percent of persons aged 80 years or over.

School enrollment, rather than age, appears to be the important factor in the likelihood of volunteering among young people. The volunteer rate of young persons aged 16 to 24 years who were enrolled in school was almost double that of those not enrolled in school, as indicated in the following tabulation:

                                       Volunteers

                                 Number       Percent of
 School enrollment status      (thousands)    population

    Total, 16 to 24 years         7,860          22.2
Enrolled in school                5,382          28.5
  Enrolled in high school         2,615          29.9
  Enrolled in college             2,767          27.2
Not enrolled in school            2,478          15.0
  16 to 19 years                    527          14. … 

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