Selfies or Selfless: An Investigation of Millennial Volunteers

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Rebecca Overmyer-Velazquez


The United States had a decline of volunteering and civic engagement in the 80s-90s, but that trend is reversing, especially among Millennials. Generational differences affect service involvement and the literature notes historical waves of increased and decreased volunteering rates across the generations. In addition to generational trends, volunteerism is motivated by parents, involvement in clubs or doing mandatory community service and that the most typical volunteer is a white, college-educated female adult, usually middle-aged or older. I want to discover how volunteering fits into the lives of the current Millennial generation (born 1980-2000) college students and graduates. I seek to discover why Millennials volunteer and how service has played a role in their past, present and future. I want to see how Millennials describe their generational cohort, if they feel a connection to them and how being “Millennial” influences their volunteering. Through 11 open-ended, informal interviews conducted in person, over the phone and through video chat, as well as 30 brief written surveys from the Whittier College student body, I hope to gain these answers from the life histories and personal opinions of Millennials themselves. While my study had limitations in sample size and accurate representation of all American Millennials, and further research is needed to make any widespread claims, my results show that avid volunteers can come from all backgrounds with motivations that are multi-faceted and evolving. Additionally, their descriptions of the Millennial generation supported the notion that the increased rates of volunteering are a generational trend as they noted how this generation’s diversity, technology use and social activism may influence Millennials to volunteer.


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