|Studying the Trends in Volunteering|
|Posted by Charles Esslinger on Mar 5th, 2013|
Trends in volunteering:
New data from the Labor Department is shedding some light on the kind of people who are volunteering. In total, nearly 27% of all Americans volunteered last year, donating an average of fifty hours each. Those numbers are down a little from the year before, continuing an overall downward trend in volunteering levels. Community service reached peak rates in the mid-2000's, with numbers around 29%, and began to decline just before the economic crisis hit.
There are several factors at play when considering what kind of people are most likely to participate in community service. Things like age, gender, and education level all have an impact on volunteer turnout. When it comes down to it, certain groups just volunteer more than others. Some of these trends are newer, while others have only gotten more pronounced over time.
-Women volunteer more than men
This trend has been established for quite some time. Nearly 30% of women volunteered from September 2011 to 2012. During that same time period, only 23.2% of men volunteered. So, why do women volunteer more than men?
Diana Aviv, president and CEO of Independent Sector, says it's a reflection of the workforce. Compared to men, women are more likely to work a part-time job or have no job at all. In theory, this could leave them with more time to volunteer.
Having children can also make volunteering more likely. “Almost always, the most compelling reason for people to continue to volunteer is that they're parents,” explained Aviv.
-An education leads to more volunteering
According to the numbers, educated people volunteer at higher rates than uneducated people. That doesn't necessarily mean being educated has anything to do with benevolence. It's more likely a matter of income. People who are not as educated typically have less income, meaning they may need to work longer hours or have multiple jobs just to get by. That increased work load ultimately impacts the amount of time a person has leftover to volunteer.
A person's education also plays a role in what kinds of groups they choose to volunteer with. While educated people are giving more of their time to community service, they're giving less of it to religious organizations. Nearly half of all volunteers without a high school diploma donate their time to religious organizations. That ratio declines with every step up in education level, with less than 1/3rd of people who have bachelor's degrees volunteering with a religious organization.
Despite that, religious groups are still one of the most popular destinations for volunteers.
-White people volunteer more than other groups
Whites tend to volunteer more often than other racial and ethnic groups. Some have proposed that this discrepancy isn't a matter of race, but a matter of income and education.
The gap could also be viewed in cultural terms. Certain groups have different ideas of what it means to volunteer. People often spend time caring for others even though it doesn't officially count as “volunteering.” For instance, some people spend a great deal of time caring for their extended family. While this may not fit the generic definition of volunteering, its benefits are certainly similar.
-Young people aren't volunteering much
People who are middle-age and older volunteer in the highest percentages. The 35 to 44 age group had the largest share of volunteers, with almost 32% participating in community service last year. If you look at total hours, senior citizens give the most. They average 90 hours per year, compared to the national median of 50.
Young adults were at the bottom in both categories, ranking low in the overall amount of volunteers and the amount of time spent volunteering. Fewer than 25% of people aged 25 to 34 volunteered last year.
Volunteering is good for the heart:
A new study in JAMA Pediatrics had some interesting news for volunteers. The impacts of volunteering affect not only the recipients of good will, but those who donate their time as well. According to the research, participating in community service can actually make you a healthier person.
The study, which is the first of its kind, was led by Mount Sinai fellow Dr. Hannah Schreier. Researchers focused on sophomores from an inner-city Vancouver high school, splitting the students into two groups. The first group, made up of 52 students, completed their school-mandated volunteering in the fall. The other group, which were used as the control, waited until the spring to complete their required community service.
Researchers measured students' risk for cardiovascular diseases before and after the semesters started. Risk factors they tested for included things like body mass index (BMI) and cholesterol levels. Researchers also took psychological factors into account, evaluating the students's changes in mood and self-esteem.
The community service requirements were made relatively easy for the student volunteers. They were only asked to volunteer one hour a week, helping with after-school activities or participating in “homework clubs” with elementary school students. Although it may not sound like much, the results were certainly worthwhile.
After just ten weeks, the impacts of volunteering started to become clear. Volunteers had measurably lower levels of the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease when compared the control group. “The volunteers who reported the greatest increases in empathy, altruistic behavior, and mental health were the ones who also saw the greatest improvements in their cardiovascular health,” explained Schreier.
But how much of that is really due to volunteering? Couldn't the health benefits simply be a product of more active children? Maybe, but does it matter? The community wins either way. If volunteers become healthier in the meantime, that's just a bonus.
U.S. News - http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/02/27/charts-new-data-show-women-more-educated-doing-most-volunteering
The Atlantic - http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/02/study-volunteering-may-improve-cardiovascular-health/273484/
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