Doesn’t generation X care?


VSO, the international development charity is ringing the alarm bells: according to their recent press release generation X does not want to volunteer. As one of those people classified broadly as generation X (hint, I was born between 1965 and 1976…), I was a bit surprised about that. Especially as I had just returned from a volunteer induction meeting with plenty of apparent generation X-ers, no visible baby boomers and I would guess no generation Y-ers in the room. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, this was at an HIV-related volunteering event, and so maybe that has something to do with the kind of people that were in the room.
But in any case I thought it would be interesting to take a slightly broader look at who is actually volunteering.

This is of course not a very complete overview, but here are some of the demographics of volunteers in general I could find:
Wardell, Lishman and Whalley (2000) found a pretty even distribution in their survey of 117 volunteers from charities involved with learning difficulties, mental health problems and physical disabilities (probably a lot more representative than my sample!). 22% of their sample were 16-29, 31% between 30 and 49 (so Generation X in terms of VSO), 30% between 50 and 64 and finally 17% over 65. For VSO the figures are 52% of its volunteers going overseas are 50 and over, and only 48% in their 20s, 30s or 40s.
VSO did not include any figures on the gender balance, but research on this is pretty conclusive: Women are far more likely to volunteer than men. For example Sergent and Sedlacek (1990) found that 60% of student volunteers in their survey were female, Wardell, Lishman and Whalley (2000) reported three quarters being women – and, just in case you wondered, in my experience tonight it was 6 females and 3 males.
Some other interesting facts I came across included that for teenagers volunteering, those who are top of their class are nearly twice as likely to volunteer (42%) than those who are average or below (21%) and those teenagers whose parents attended college were also about twice as likely to volunteer than those whose parents did not attend college (McComb 2003). Which just seems to support the often cited “positive” circle of self-esteem leading to social-engagement leading to achievement leading to more self-esteem and so forth.
But back to the original problem: What happened to generation X? It seems that at least in terms of overall volunteering there is ongoing growth , and volunteering is widespread, with 42% of the adult population of the UK formally volunteering at least once per year (NCVO 2006). But in terms of going overseas with the VCO, this seems to be declining for generation X. But then again, maybe this really is a result of the kind of charity VSO is, and that the of people they are likely to attract are increasingly less likely to be people who are in their “early” careers (and busy trying to build careers) then people who are increasingly settled in their position, and can easier afford to go abroad for some time.
Does that then mean that generation X does not care? Certainly not, it just shows they volunteer in different areas and with different commitments.

McComb, C (2003): Teens and Social Service: Who Volunteers? Gallup Poll Tuesday Briefing, 5/27/2003
NCVO (2006): The UK Voluntary Sector Almanac 2006: The State of the Sector (available online)
Sergent, M.T. and Sedlacek, W.E. (1990): Volunteer Motivations Across Organizations: A Test of Person-Environment Fit Theory, Journal of College Student Development, May 1990, Vol. 31
Wardell, F., Lishman, J. and Whalley, L.J (2000): Who Volunteers?, British Journal of Social Work 30, 227-248

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