I attend a lot of beach cleanups. I am there to make observations and take data on the trash, but as a scientist, you can’t help it when you start to see and recognize patterns. It’s what I’m trained to do. I started paying attention to not just what trash we were finding, or where we were finding it, but who was attending cleanups.
Volunteer events are consistently dominated by young white females.
I dont’ know why this surprised me. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, woman consistently volunteer more than men (27.8% compared to 21.8%) across all age groups, education levels, and other demographic factors. Whites also volunteer at higher rates than other ethnicities (26.4%) (Blacks- 19.3%, Asians-17.9%, Hispanics 15.5%). Married persons, people with higher education, and employed persons are also more likely to volunteer, all of which are nearly impossible to determine in a glance. These trends hold true for volunteering in “environmental or animal care” but at much smaller rates (2.9% of total volunteer time).
This got me wondering… why? What is it about volunteering that creates such distinct gender and ethnicity gaps?
It turns out I am not the first person to ask this question, and as in all social and human behavioral studies, the answers are complicated, mixed, and not well defined. There are significant trends related to employment, children and community capital.
My first reaction was that women perceive their time as being less valuable than men. The current gender pay gap would only reinforce this feeling. Not being paid for an hour or two of work wouldn’t seem unreasonable. Where as men, who feel the pressure of being “bread winners” and are rewarded for their work on a higher scale would find volunteering a waste. Of course things are much more complicated than that on a large scale, but for my cohort (the young, well educated females) who
seem to dominate these events it seems like a valid hypothesis.
See the BLS 2015 statistics here
T. Hiromi. (2006) Men’s and women’s volunteering gender differences in the effects of employment, and family characteristics. Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action: 35 (1) 83-101