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Do Good Institute Report: Philanthropy in U.S. May Face Harder Times

Young Adults Reach Milestones Later, Give and Volunteer Less

By Kaitlin Ahmad

UMD students, faculty and staff volunteer at Good Neighbor Day 2019, removing invasive plant species near Lake Artemesia.

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

UMD graduate and undergraduate students volunteer at Good Neighbor Day 2019 in April, removing invasive plant species near Lake Artemesia. Nationwide, young adults are giving less to charity and volunteering less, new research from UMD Do Good Institute has found.

A decline in volunteerism and charitable giving among people ages 22–35 may be related to ever-growing delays in the milestones of “adulting,” including graduating from college, living independently and getting married, according to new research from UMD’s Do Good Institute.

Using recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Current Population Survey Supplement on Volunteering from 2002–15, the report found that volunteer rates among young adult college graduates dropped from a peak of 38% in 2003 to 31.2% in 2015. Their charitable giving rate also fell, from a high of 59.8% in 2011 to 55.7% in 2015. The numbers are even lower for those who didn’t graduate.

These losses correspond with the decline in full-time employment in this group, as well as declining fertility and homeownership and later marriages: In 1976, 85% of women and 75% of men ages 35–39 were, or had been, married; by 2014, those figures sank to 46% and 32%, respectively.

All of these are associated with volunteering and giving, as they root people more deeply in a community, the researchers said. As these rates decline, so do rates of volunteering and donating to charities.

“Young adults frequently need to gain experience and build strong community ties—through activities like owning a home, having children and working full-time—before they become actively engaged contributors to civic activities,” said Nathan Dietz, senior researcher at the Do Good Institute and one of the authors of “Shifting Milestones, Fewer Donors and Volunteers.”

He and co-author Robert T. Grimm, Levenson Family Chair in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership and director of the Do Good Institute in the School of Public Policy, noted that volunteerism and charitable giving in the U.S. had been waning for the past two decades.

Dietz and Grimm cite student loan debt, the effect of the Great Recession on perceptions of economic security and wage stagnation as factors in young people’s increasing delay on decisions like buying a home.

“American life in the 21st century is changing in ways that often leave individuals less likely to give or volunteer,” said Grimm. “While this signals a serious challenge for communities that benefit from volunteers and donors, these declining trends also impact our ability to construct ties, build relationships and develop bonds of trust, which can leave people feeling isolated, distrustful, and in poorer physical and mental health.”

Understanding this age group better could help prompt new ways to encourage their civic behaviors over a lifetime, thereby strengthening our nation’s social fabric, he and Dietz wrote. These trends, however, “raise red flags about the future” of charitable giving in the nation.




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School of Public Policy

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