Young Americans Interested in 'Voluntourism,' Survey Finds

The number of Americans considering so-called volunteer vacations continues to grow, although there are notable differences between the generations, a recent survey from University of California San Diego Extension finds.

According to a national survey conducted this spring, two-thirds of high school students and roughly half of the college students polled said that in the past year they had participated in discussions involving travel to other countries to be of service. By comparison, less than half the adult population and only a quarter of retirees said they had had similar conversations. Overall, the survey found that 69 percent of Americans have donated money or time to a global cause — a 21 percent year-over-year increase.

In the most recent poll, respondents said they would most enjoy volunteer assignments designed to strengthen and develop local education or culture (23 percent), provide spiritual or emotional assistance (19 percent), improve health and nutrition (18 percent), construct roads, homes, or technology infrastructure (14 percent), and support environmental clean-up or agriculture (12 percent). Despite a frequently stated interest in service to the global community, however, only 7 percent of respondents, regardless of age, expressed an interest in making global service a career.

"More and more people in all stages of life are thinking of becoming global 'voluntourists'," said Bob Benson, director of the Center for Global Volunteer Service at UC San Diego Extension. "People are looking to volunteer their time in meaningful ways that make contributions to people in regions other than their own, and younger people are especially eager to make 'voluntourism' part of their lifestyle."

"Study: Interest in Global 'Voluntourism' Continues to Grow." UC San Diego Extension Press Release 06/23/2009.