is volunteering an elite activity?

The Census data on volunteering show that there are big gaps by race/ethnicity and especially by educational background. Almost half of college graduates say they volunteer, compared to less than one in ten adults who dropped out of high school. I didn’t attempt any statistical analysis, but it appears that educational background is the important factor. African Americans might volunteer at higher rates than Whites if you controlled for educational background.

Volunteering has advantages for those who do it: it educates and connects people to their fellow human beings. That’s one reason to be concerned about the gap in volunteering. We might also worry that, if most volunteers are well-off and White, there will be inadequate volunteer services in disadvantaged communities. And privileged volunteers may misunderstand or patronize those they serve.

If we are concerned about this gap, we could try to close it by providing more service opportunities and support (including perhaps financial support) for less advantaged Americans.

On the other hand, there is a class-bias inherent in the concept of “volunteering.” If a person with a paid day-job helps other people’s kids at the local school, that’s volunteering. However, if a stay-at-home Mom carefully monitors the neighborhood kids, she is unlikely to describe herself as a volunteer. And if a person chooses to work as a public school teacher, she isn’t a “volunteer” unless she also helps after-hours at a soup kitchen or cleaning up a park.

Thus it’s possible that it’s not actual volunteering that’s mal-distributed, but only the way we define it.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.