July 26, 2015
I’ve been hearing about the implications of an ageing population for a long time now. Prognostications include an awful lot of doom and gloom about the cost of pensions and health services, and the shrinking tax-paying work force available to support that expenditure. At the same time there is much laudatory exposure of the engagement of young people in volunteering – Gen Y and the Millenials.
The World Giving Index (2013) shows that “Global youth are driving the rise in volunteering: Since 2011, the biggest increase in participation in volunteering has occurred among 15-24 year olds. Within three years this age group has gone from being the least likely to the second most likely to volunteer.”
An outspoken blogger argues the obsession with Millenials is a Nonprofit Trend that has to Die. “There are other groups we also need to pay attention to, like the Boomers, who will be retiring and affecting the sector in various ways.”
So I went looking for what’s happening in volunteering, for the data that might give me a reality test of who is doing what.
Statistics New Zealand’s Time Use Survey 2009/2010 showed older people (aged 65+) spent more time on unpaid work than people at other life stages – 4 hours and 31 minutes a day; young people (aged 12–24 years) spent the least, at 1 hour and 46 minutes. OK – that information is a bit old, but gives a pretty clear difference between age groups.
A bit more up to date is 2012 information from Volunteering NZ’s Statistics on Volunteering (New Zealand General Social Survey). People aged 65-74 reported undertaking volunteering work the most (37.7%) followed by people aged 45-54 (34.4%). People in the 25-34 age group reported the lowest rate of volunteering (24.8%). When measured by life-stage, the proportion of people volunteering increases from 28.8% of young adults volunteering to 35% of older people, as indicated in the following graph.
On the other hand, Department of Internal Affairs (NZ) Quarterly Volunteering & Donating Indicators for the September 2014 quarter show that people between the ages of 30-39 were the largest cohort of volunteers. People of 60-74 and 75+ years were not far behind. Long-term trend indicates people aged 40-49 have had the highest percentage of volunteers for 11 of the 19 quarters analysed. Ages 10-19 have lowest % for 16 of 19 quarters.
US Bureau of Statistics data for 2014 finds that people aged 35-44 were most likely to volunteer (29.8 %). Volunteer rates were lowest among 20- to 24-year-olds (18.7%). For persons 45 years and over, the volunteer rate tapered off as age increased, though the rate for people aged 65 and over was 23.6%. Teenagers (16- to 19-year-olds) had a volunteer rate of 26.1%.
NCVO figures from UK Civil Society Almanac 2014 note that between around a quarter (24%) and a third (33%) of people in each age range report volunteering at least once a month, with those aged 65-74 the most likely to volunteer this frequently.
Enough! From this mish-mash of information I take the following points:
- Yes, there is a significant rise in the rates of youth volunteering, but they don’t put in the hours that older people (65+) work as volunteers.
- What is fairly consistent is the highest rate of volunteering in the 30-49 age group, what is (or used to be) called middle adulthood, when involvement in children’s school and sporting activities and local community services can be expected.
- Yet, in New Zealand at least, it seems older people (65+ years) are the biggest contributors to the community and volunteer sector.
So why are we not hearing more about what older volunteers can do, about attracting older people to volunteering? Specially when we know they are living longer in better health, and how volunteering can be good for both physical and social health. The buzz of volunteering and its intangible (and tangible) rewards are just as important for older people as for younger generations.
A UK report on the future of volunteering in an ageing society indicates the challenges, like they keep on working till at least age 70; they take on extra grandparent duties (or even full-time parenting); and bountiful economic years have given many of them opportunities for travel. Anxiety about being a ‘do-gooder’ or ‘interfering’ is also expressed by people raised in an era of different social norms. And current marketing and promotion of volunteering is not reaching them.
Some excellent resources for engaging with Boomers are available, from best practice to tips and tools. It’s all the stuff we’ve been preaching in New Zealand about management of volunteers for the past five years and a reminder about being inclusive in volunteer programmes. Boomers are too big a population to ignore, and volunteering is their best opportunity to keep involved in all spheres of community life.
As an 82 year old Ambassador promoting Boomer volunteering for Volunteering Waikato has said: No-one should ever be left out!
According to Henry Ford, “Anyone who stops learning is old – anyone who keeps learning stays young”.
And that’s the point made by the president of New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) in 2012:
It has become an obsession to label people as belonging to supposedly homogenous generations – be that Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials or Baby Boomers. Often this labelling becomes a tool for negatively creating false and divisive barriers between generations, or setting one generation against another. Carelessly used, these labels perpetuate ideas of ‘them’ and ‘us’, rather than helping us to build greater social cohesion.
Being a student is one of those shared experiences that continues throughout our lives – we never cease to learn. So everyone is a Generation Student!
That label would suit me just fine, because I could be learning from young people as well as my peers.
So let’s spread the word about the variety of volunteer challenges available to the Boomer generation, about the opportunities to apply their skills and experience, and the opportunities to learn more, and about the richness of belonging and being involved in our communities.