Australian research finds religious youth more likely to volunteer

Andrew Singleton of Monash University, Australia previews some findings from The Spirit of Generation Y his study of spirituality among 1216 young Australians which revealed that religion is strongly associated with many positive life outcomes.

We found that one in five 13-to-24 year olds are actively religious, while about one in six could be described as atheists. The rest are religiously or spiritually disengaged but tend to either secular indifference or a superficial interest in the New Age.

…The religiously active are more likely to have positive civic attitudes, display high levels of social concern and be actively involved in community service. Active Christians, for example, do much more hours of volunteer work per month than secular youth. On a measure of the extent to which a person holds positive human values — favouring an ethical life, justice for all and having an orientation to the common good — we also found the religiously active to be streets ahead.

These findings make sense when we consider that regular attendees at religious services are encouraged to lead altruistic and ethical lives and given ample opportunities to partake in community service.

What about the young atheists? Most secular-minded youth are more self-oriented because there is no widely understood or shared ethical alternative paradigm on which to model their lives. Despite recent commentary about “generation Y” being community-minded, our evidence suggests that the prevailing ethos of the past decade — individualism and consumerism — afflicts young people in spades. And the secular humanists and rationalists do not seem to be putting up a credible, earthly alternative way of life.

Christian Today reports further that the study found 71% of Gen Y are not involved in any kind of community service in a typical month – whether fundraising, office work, signing a petition, collecting for a charity or coaching a sporting team. The study found that 77% of those whose spirituality type is Secular and 51% of Active Christians are not engaged in community activities in any way and do nothing for others apart from close family and friends.

However, a significant proportion of Gen Y go against that trend. They demonstrate strong community values and are actively involved in their communities in ways that assist the marginalised and disadvantaged. Some do hard-edge volunteer work that requires both initiative and courage. This type of service takes them outside their comfort zone and provides them with new skills and confidence.

Those who engage in voluntary work are likely to have a strong commitment to community values and be actively involved their faith. Active Christians and those New Agers who were brought up Christian demonstrate high levels of community involvement and altruism.

Spirituality type is also correlated with generosity: although 25% of Seculars and 8% of Active Christians give nothing to charity in a year, those Active Christians who do donate are generous in their giving.

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2 responses to “Australian research finds religious youth more likely to volunteer

  1. I would be interested to know how they define “community service”. As churches benefit from charitable status, I fear doing some voluntary work in support of your church would be included as “community service”, when often it’s nothing more than worship or prosleytising…”come to our coffee morning…and hear the good news…” kind of thing. If a young person helps organise that coffee morning I am sure it would be counted as “community service” when in fact it’s nothing more helping out the local church’s recruitment campaigns.

  2. I’m not sure if the list cited (fundraising, office work, signing a petition, collecting for a charity or coaching a sporting team) is exhaustive although I’d suspect that something like volunteering to help out on an Alpha course would help (but then so might volunteering for an initative promoting secular humanism). I will try and get hold of the report to find out details but is that really a problem? It’s difficult to say what kind of voluntary activity is most valuable generally let alone in an academic study – if it’s helping others in some way perhaps it doesn’t matter too much if those people happen are only of your religion or belief.

    Other measures would be needed to determine how cross-communal and inclusive active citizenship is and this would need to be looked at in terms of other factors such as age and ethnicity.

    It’s good to be cautious but of course we need to be prepared to accept the possibility that religious people are generally more civically active

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