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1 August 2013 - Press release 

Young people with high levels of cultural capital are more likely to volunteer, says new research from the Third Sector Research Centre. Going to the theatre, concerts, sports events, museums or art galleries had the greatest influence on youth volunteering, political and organisational involvement. 

The research is the first large-scale analysis of youth volunteering in the UK. It analysed data on 4,760 young people aged between 10 and 15. Overall, the data shows that 52% of young people volunteer at least once a year, of these 19% do so at least once a month.

Youths with higher levels of cultural capital are 65% more likely to volunteer.

The research also highlights the importance of positive role models – youths were 22% more likely to volunteer frequently if they had at least one parent who also volunteers. 

Those from ethnic minority backgrounds were 28% more likely to volunteer than White British youths. 

The research also showed that young people are more likely to volunteer if they: 

  • are female;
  • live in a rural area;
  • have greater numbers of close friends;
  • attend religious classes.

The research found significant differences across socio-economic classes, with higher classes more likely to volunteer. However, social class effects become insignificant once social and cultural capital is taken into account – suggesting that access to social and cultural resources affects engagement in other areas of life. 

The research found no differences in participation across religious groups, and attendance at religious services made youth no more likely to volunteer. Household structure also had no effect, with youths from single-parent households just as likely to volunteer as youth from two-parent households.

Matthew Bennett, who co-authored the research with Meenakshi Parameshwaran, said “Civic engagement among young people has been linked to a number of positive outcomes later in life, including greater wellbeing, academic and career achievement, and fewer problem behaviours such as substance misuse. Successive governments have also made great efforts to encourage young people to volunteer, so it is surprising that the factors predicting youth involvement have not been measured until now. 

This research demonstrates the important role of social and cultural factors in youth participation, and suggests that civic engagement could itself be seen as a form of cultural capital given the positive outcomes associated with these behaviours in prior US and European studies. Youth volunteering may reinforce existing social divides, so more could be done to engage those who lack the human, social and cultural resources – and especially young white males, from lower social classes and urban areas.”

Read the briefing paper 'what factors predict volunteering among youths in the UK', by Matthew Bennett and Meena Parameshwaran

A podcast by Matthew and Meena is available on the Understanding Society website

The research uses data from Wave 2 of Understanding Society, collected in 2010 and 2011. It contains a large nationally representative sample of 10-15 year olds, who completed a youth survey. The sample consists of 4,760 in 3,626 households. The data capture self-reported demographics, attitudes, and behaviours of respondents, including questions on family background and civic activities.

Understanding Society is a world leading study of the socio-economic circumstances in 40,000 UK households

Cultural activity makes young people more likely to volunteer, says new research

What factors predict volunteering among youths in the UK

Authors Matthew and Meena discuss why young people volunteer

Young volunteer Alice Brighty’s talks about her experiences of volunteering on the Society Central website