What are the demographics of volunteers?

By age

  • In 2018/19, 65–74 year olds are the age group most likely to volunteer formally on a regular basis: More than one quarter (28%) volunteered at least once a month while more than a third (39%) volunteered at least once a year.
  • People aged 25–34 were least likely to formally volunteer compared to all other age groups. 15% volunteered at least once a month (regularly) and 29% at least once a year. This remains unchanged from previous years.
  • Participation levels among 16–24-year olds declined from the previous year (2017/18) – from 39% to 35% for volunteering at least once a year and from 24% to 21% for regular volunteering.

People aged 65–74 are the age group most likely to volunteer on a regular basis

By gender

  • Women were more likely than men to have formally volunteered at least once in the last year (37% vs 34%) however levels of regular volunteering are similar (22% vs 21%).
  • Our Time Well Spent report highlights some gender differences in volunteering activities undertaken and causes supported. For example, women are less likely to be in representative volunteering roles, and men are more likely to be involved in sport and political organisations.

Women are more likely to volunteer at least once in the last year than men

By employment status

  • Those in employment were more likely to formally volunteer on a regular basis than those who are unemployed (22% vs 17%), but those who are economically inactive were most likely to volunteer regularly (27%).
  • Our Time Well Spent data highlights that the majority of volunteers who are employed give time outside of work rather than through employer-supported volunteering.

Around one in five people in employment volunteer regularly

By geography

  • In 2018/19, people living in rural areas were more likely to formally volunteer than those in urban areas (44% vs 34% at least once in the last year, and 29% vs 20% for regular volunteering).
  • In 2018/19 rates of formal volunteering were highest in the south-west, with 43% of people volunteering at least once in the last year and lowest in the West Midlands (29%).

Volunteering rates are higher in rural areas

By socio-economic status

  • In 2018/19, 14% were involved in formal volunteering regularly in the most deprived areas of England compared with 29% in the least deprived. There was less variation, however, for informal volunteering, especially for regular involvement.
  • These differences are confirmed by other research evidence, which also suggests that these differences are more significant for formal than informal volunteering.
  • The evidence also highlights that for formal volunteering, volunteers from lower socio-economic groups were less likely to undertake leading or organising roles, such as being a trustee.

People from higher socio-economic groups who live in less deprived areas are more likely to volunteer, but with smaller differences for informal volunteering

Spotlight: Young people’s engagement

Young people volunteering has been of national interest for a number of years and has seen significant investment through initiatives like the #iwill campaign and the National Citizen Service (NCS).

The Community Life Survey provides some figures on volunteering rates for young people. In 2018/19, about one-fifth (21%) of 16–24 year olds volunteered regularly for a group or organisations. The proportion that has remained relatively stable over the last three years but has dropped from 32% in 2015/16 when the survey was carried out face-to-face instead of online. This highlights the difficulty of reliably measuring participation rates as well as the possible effect of social desirability bias in face to face situations – if people think volunteering is a good thing to do, they will be more likely to report that they do it.

Another source of information is the National Youth Social Action survey which tracks the involvement of 10–20 year olds in meaningful social action. This is defined as those who have:

  • participated at least every few months over the last 12 months in social action, or been involved in a one-off activity lasting more than a day
  • recognise that their activities had some benefit for both themselves and others in.

According to their latest data, 39% of young people participated in meaningful social action in 2018 with those from the most affluent backgrounds more likely to have taken part in the past year, (45% of ABC1 compared with 31% of C2DE). This is in line with a range of evidence that links participation to higher levels of education and social class. A lack of information (35%) or interest (31%) were reported as the most common barrier for not getting involved in social action, while socialising (23%) was the top reason for getting involved.

Although not a primary aim of the programme, the NCS aims for an overrepresentation of minority groups to help encourage greater social mobility. In 2017, 31% of their 99,179 participants came from BAME backgrounds. Their evaluation identified several positive outcomes three months on including the number of hours volunteered. However, there is a lack of information on longer term impact.

More data and research

Notes and definitions

Findings from this page are largely taken from the latest data from the Community Life Survey (2018/19). Where other recent data is referenced, this is taken from Time Well Spent, which also looks at volunteer profiles. Differences in the sample and methodology should be noted (more on this in the methodology section).

Specific terms

  • Formal volunteering: giving unpaid help through a group, club or organisation.
  • Informal volunteering: giving unpaid help as an individual to people who are not a relative.
  • Regular volunteering: people volunteer at least once a month.