Skip to navigationSkip to content
Volunteer at Olympic campsite.
Reuters/Olivia Harris
Volunteering at the London Olympics attracted a young crowd.

The very young are trouncing every other generation on hours spent volunteering

Cassie Werber
By Cassie Werber


From our Obsession

The Office

How we shape, experience, and define the workplace.

Gone are the days when teenagers and young adults could be called lazy when it comes to contributing to society.

In the UK, new data reveal that 16-to-24-year-olds have outstripped every other age group in formal volunteering, rising from being the least active group in the sector to the most active over the course of the past 15 years. The UK’s Office for National Statistics, which collected the data, suggested that the need to enhance resumés in a competitive job market might be the driving force behind how much young people are willing to give their time for free:

The net effect, the ONS said, was a loss of more than £1 billion ($1.2 billion) worth of unpaid work in the last three years alone—part of what the ONS calls “a general decline in the time that the UK’s unsung heroes and heroines spend volunteering since 2005.”

The ONS tracked a huge drop in the amount people in their early careers are giving their time to causes. “It could be that, as younger people try and secure employment, they undertake voluntary work in order to enhance their CVs, but as they embed themselves in their careers, at an older age, their focus turns to building their careers,” the researchers wrote.

Work pressure appears to be consuming people in early careers ever more, while the ONS pointed out that young people also tend to have more free time than those in the pre-retirement age group. The ONS counted people who were part of a formal volunteering arrangement and who volunteered at least once a month. There was also a slide away from voluntary work among people over 55, the age group that was doing the most back in 2000.

Gender also plays a big role in how likely people are to volunteer. Women are “streets ahead” of men both in terms of how likely the are to volunteer and how long they spend doing it, the researchers said. That’s on top of doing 60% more unpaid work such as cooking, childcare, and housework, according to stats from 2016.

Subscribe to the Daily Brief, our morning email with news and insights you need to understand our changing world.