Home | About Us | What's New | Data Briefs | Our Funders | Help
The Child & Youth Indicators Databank: All you need to know, always up to date.  
Enter keyword(s)
Advanced Search

View as PDF (Best for Printing)


Students who plan to complete four years of college are significantly more likely to participate in volunteer activities at least once a month than are their peers who do not plan to complete college, a discrepancy that increases with age.


Adolescents who are involved in community service or who volunteer in political activities have been found more likely to have a strong work ethic as adults and are more likely to volunteer and vote in the future.1 Youth who volunteer are less likely to become pregnant or to use drugs. Volunteering in adolescence is also related to overall positive academic, psychological, and occupational outcomes.2,3,4

Data from a study in 2002 show that teenagers ages 16 to 19 in the United States are more likely than any other age group under the age of 35 to have volunteered in the past year. Of those who volunteer, most work with either education or youth-service related organizations (34 percent) or religious organizations (31 percent). Forty-one percent of teen volunteers reported that they approached the organization for which they volunteer, rather than being asked by someone else to volunteer.5


Among twelfth grade students, the percentage who volunteered at least once per month rose from 24 percent in 1991 to 35 percent in 2001, and was at 33 percent in 2006. Among tenth grade students, monthly volunteering fluctuated during this time period, but overall the percentage rose from 27 percent in 1991 to 30 percent in 2006. Among eighth grade students, volunteering at least once per month has fluctuated slightly over the past fifteen years, reaching a high of 29 percent in 2000. Overall, however, eighth grade participation has not changed significantly, remaining at between 26 and 29 percent between 1991 and 2006. (See Table 1)

Differences by Grade

Older students are more likely than younger students to volunteer at least once per month. In 2006, the percentage of twelfth grade students who volunteered at least once per month was 33 percent, higher than the percentage of tenth grade students (30 percent) and the percentage of 8th grade students (27 percent). (See Figure 1)

> Back to Top

Differences by Gender

Female students are more likely to volunteer than males, especially as they get older. In 2006, for example, 39 percent of twelfth grade female students volunteered at least once per month, compared with 28 percent of twelfth grade male students. The gender gap is smaller but still significant among tenth grade males and females (7 percentage points) and eighth grade males and females (5 percentage points). (See Table 1)

> Back to Top

Differences by Parental Education

Students whose parents have finished college or have gone to graduate school are the most likely to volunteer at least once a month. (See Figure 2) This is a consistent pattern over time and across grades. This is a consistent pattern over time and across grades. In 2006, for example, 18 percent of eighth grade students whose parents had less than a high school education volunteered at least once a month, compared with 36 percent of eighth grade students whose parents went to graduate school.

Differences by College Plans

Youth who plan to complete college are much more likely to volunteer at least once a month compared with other youth. Among twelfth graders in 2006, 37 percent of those who planned to complete four years of college volunteered, compared with 21 percent of those without such plans. (See Figure 3)

Related Indicators

Religious Services Attendance, Participation in School Athletics

State and Local Estimates

State estimates for 2003 are available for children ages 6-17 through the National Survey for Children's Health at http://nschdata.org/anonymous/Dataquery/DataQuery.aspx?control=5 (Select Community and School Activities under Child Health Measures)

International Estimates

None available

> Back to Top

National Goals

None available

What Works: Programs and Interventions that May Influence this Indicator

Click here to view examples of programs and interventions that research has evaluated for this indicator. View programs

Research References

1Zaff, Jonathan and Erik Michelsen. (October 2002). Child Trends Research Brief: Encouraging Civic Engagement: How Teens Are (or Are Not) Becoming Responsible Citizens. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/Files//Child_Trends-2002_10_01_RB_CivicEngagement.pdf.

2National Commission on Service Learning (2001). The Power of Service-Learning for American Schools (Online). Available: http://www.wkkf.org/default.aspx?tabid=100&CID=13&CatID=13&NID=211&LanguageID=0

3Oesterle, S., Kirkpatrick, M., Mortimer, J. (2004). "Volunteerism during the Transition to Adulthood: A Life Course Perspective" Social Forces 48 (3) pg. 1123.

4Morgan, W. & Streb, M. (2001 August 1)."The Impact of Service-Learning on Political Participation."

5Bureau of Labor Statistics (December 2002). "Volunteering in the United States Summary."


Volunteering includes all students who answered that they "participate in community affairs or volunteer work" once or twice a month or more.

Data Source

Child Trends original analysis of Monitoring the Future data, 1991-2006.

Raw Data Source

Bachman, Jerald G., Lloyd D. Johnston, and Patrick M. O'Malley. Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of American Youth (8th, 10th, and 12th-Grade Surveys), 1976-2006 [Computer files]. Conducted by University of Michigan, Survey Research Center. ICPSR ed. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [producer and distributor].
ICPSR: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu
Monitoring the Future:http://www.monitoringthefuture.org

Approximate Date of Next Update

November 2008

> Back to Top

View as PDF
(Best for Printing)

Trends &
Subgroup Differences
Related Indicators
State, Local &
International Estimates
National Goals
What Works: Programs that May Influence this Indicator
Definition, Data
& Next Update

Supporting Figures
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3

Supporting Tables
Table 1
  Site Design by WebFirst
Subgroup Age Alphabet Indicators with separate estimates by subgroup: race, 
ethnicity, family structure, income, welfare receipt, etc. Age Alphabetically