Good Intentions, Gap in Action: The Challenge of Translating Youth's High Interest in Doing Good into Civic Engagement

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Grimm, Robert T., Jr., and Nathan Dietz. 2018. “Good Intentions, Gap in Action: The Challenge of Translating Youth’s High Interest in Doing Good into Civic Engagement.” Research Brief: Do Good Institute, University of Maryland.


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Volunteering has long been recognized as a primary mechanism for creating productive and active citizens. A large and diverse body of research describes how volunteering promotes beneficial outcomes for young people: volunteering enables youth to develop social connections and “soft skills” that smooth the transition to adulthood and encourage lifelong community engagement. Social institutions, such as family, religion, and schools, play important roles in the development of many young people by providing paths of entry into volunteering and other forms of community engagement.

Our research has shown that teenagers have volunteered at much higher rates over the last two decades (2002-2015) than they did the mid-1970s and late 1980s. Moreover, according to research by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) conducted over the last 51 years, the desire to do good is at an all-time high among entering college students. In 2016, HERI reported that record numbers of first-year college students felt “helping others in difficulty” and “becoming a comm unity leader” was an “essential” or “very important” personal objective.

In this report, we analyze for the first time high school and college student data on actual student engagement taken from the Current Population Survey (CPS), which is conducted monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau. Each September between 2002 and 2015, the CPS included a supplemental survey on volunteering that collected data from a national sample of more than 55,000 households, with representative samples in every state and the District of Columbia.