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Youth Volunteering in Canada:

Reflections On The Ethnic Dimension

Fernando Mata, John D. Brodhead and Isabelle Petersen, and

Strategic Research and Analysis

Multiculturalism Program

Department of Canadian Heritage

Draft: November, 2000





Using data from the 1997 National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, the authors reflect briefly on the ethnic dimension of volunteering while examining the ethnic profiles of young volunteers. Youth who reported at least one ethnic origin other than Canadian, British or French contributed almost half of full time jobs devoted to volunteering activities. Females of this category were remarkably active in both formal and informal volunteering tasks, frequently surpassing the rates of majority youth. Overall, the figures from the 1997 NSGVP suggest that the contributions of minority youth are quite significant in terms of volunteering in Canada.


Studies undertaken in the area of youth volunteering in Canada often have overlooked the fact that volunteers come from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. The demographic pool of potential volunteers is already very rich in its ethnic and racial composition. At present, about one in four individuals aged 19-24 in Canada belongs to an Aboriginal or a visible minority group. This ratio is as high as one in three in cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. The lack of recognition of the presence of an ethnic dimension in youth volunteering has frequently led to general statements concerning the behaviour and attitudes of youth with respect to different philanthropic causes. Using the findings of the 1997 National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, the purpose of this document is to reflect on the ethnic dimension of volunteering and examine selected ethnic profiles of young volunteers from majority and minority backgrounds.


Youth volunteering is going to play a critical role in the future of Canadian society as the role of government shifts and budgets are reduced. As it has come to be known, the 'third sector' meets a number of the population's needs that otherwise may not be met by the private or the public sector. In 1993, there were approximately forty thousand community-based charities and foundations in Canada and they employed nearly half a million part-time and full-time employees.

What is the most reliable data source available to properly uncover the ethnic dimension of volunteering in Canada? At present, the 1997 Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating provides the best data for this purpose. This survey, conducted by Statistics Canada between November and December of 1997, comprised a sample of more than 18,000 Canadians aged 15 years and over. Youth aged 15-24 years comprised 2,389 respondents. The reference period for the report of volunteering activities was November 1, 1996 to October 31, 1997. Young respondents were asked about their community involvement through giving to charitable and non-profit organizations, civic participation and volunteering.

According to the 1997 NSGVP, the philanthropic involvements of Canadian youth were not necessarily confined to the field of volunteering. For instance, youth aged 15-24 years made direct charitable donations equivalent to 187.5 million dollars, or 4% of the total donated by all age groups. The 3.9 million Canadians in this age group represent thirteen percent of the population, and have significantly less disposable income on than does the adult population. In addition, the youth of Canada displayed high rates of civic participation in "universalist" types of institutions such as religious, community, cultural, civic and political.

In 1997, Canadian youth aged 15-24 years contributed an equivalent of 124,993 full-time year-round jobs. Table 1 presents ethnic breakdowns of the allocation of these jobs by types of recipient organizations. Due to the sample size constraints of the survey, total volunteered hours are presented by five major categories of ethnic origin: French, Canadian & British & French, Aboriginal and NCBF (Non-Canadian, British or French). The NCBF group is of special interest because it comprises individuals who reported at least one ethnic origin other than British, Canadian or French (i.e. German, Italian, Black, Chinese, etc.). This group constitutes the core population of minority youth in Canada.


In terms of the total share of full time jobs, the NCBF group contributed an equivalent of 59,774 jobs or about 48% of the total amount contributed by all youth aged 15-24 years. The full time job contributions of the other groups was the following: British (17,576), Aboriginal (477), Canadian (21,417), French (4,547) and Canadian, British or French (21,156).

Institutions devoted to cultural and recreational activities as well as social services were the most popular recipients of job allocations by youth (32% and 26% respectively). However, depending on the ethnic origins of respondents, there were some differences in full time job allocations. Individuals of British origins invested relatively more of their volunteering time to culture and recreation related organizations than members of other ethnic origins. Youth of French backgrounds donated more time to health and social service related organizations in larger shares than members of other ethnic groups. Individuals of Aboriginal groups as well as those who belong to the NCBF group donated relatively larger shares of their time to religious organizations (23% and 19% respectively). Thus, religious organizations among the preferred vehicles of civic engagement through volunteering among multicultural youth.


Figure 2 provides information on the average hours volunteered to organizations by selected ethnic backgrounds of the respondents. Figures presented are for individual ethnic groups for which there was available a minimal sample count of 100 respondents . The data showed that there were some fluctuations around the 126 hours average ranging from relatively higher averages for youth reporting French or Canadian and French backgrounds to relatively lower averages for Black, South Asian and Ukrainian youth.



Figure 1: Job Allocations by Types of Recipient Organizations and Ethnic Origins of Volunteers


Symbols: NCBF-Youth who reported at least one ethnic origin other than Canadian. British or French.

Figure 2: Average Hours Volunteered by Youth by Selected Ethnic Backgrounds





The 1997 NSGVP collected information on both formal and informal volunteering activities of Canadian youth. Formal activities included canvassing or fundraising, educating, organizing, administering, teaching, provision of health care, mutual aid, serving food or goods, building, driving, etc. Informal volunteering activities consisted of help not done through an organization including housework, yard maintenance, shopping or driving someone, supporting the sick and the elderly, babysitting or other activities done on a personal basis rather than through institutions.

Figure 3: Formal and Informal Volunteering Rates by Ethnic Origins of Youth



Among Canadian youth aged 15-24 years, the formal volunteering rate was 33% and the informal volunteering rate was 77%. Differences (not shown) by the immigrant status of respondents were apparent. Formal volunteering rates favoured Canadian-born males and females (33% and 36% respectively) over foreign-born males and females (22% and 27% respectively). Females had higher volunteering rates than males in both groups. With respect to informal volunteering, rates were higher again for both male and female Canadian born (77% and 81% respectively) than for male and female foreign born youth (64% and 67% respectively). These observed differences may be due to lack of information, linguistic barriers, and other obstacles that may limit the number of foreign born youth from volunteering.



Figure 3 displays information on formal and informal volunteering rates of youth by major ethnic groups. Canadian youth of British origins displayed the highest rates of formal volunteering (40%) followed by the NCBF group (35%). Relatively high average rates of informal volunteering for all major ethnic groups revealed that the participation of youth in civic life went beyond formal institutional domains and included the family, the neighbourhood and the community at large. Members of all ethnic groups displayed informal volunteering rates above 70%.


In addition to ethnicity, gender also plays a large role in explaining participation in various formal and informal volunteering activities. Females had higher rates of participation in most activities. Figures 4 through 7 display volunteering rates for four typical volunteering activities of a formal and informal nature.

Among those who formally volunteered through canvassing, campaigning, or fundraising, females of the NCBF group had the highest volunteering rates (20%) while Aboriginal males had the lowest volunteering rates (3%). Another important formal volunteering activity is the organization and supervision of events on behalf of organizations. In this activity British males, British females, and NCBF females displayed the highest volunteering rates (19%) while Aboriginal females reported the lowest (8%). Out of the first six groups who reported the highest informal volunteering rates through babysitting, five were found to be female. Females of British origins reported the highest informal volunteering rate (64%) and Canadian males reported the lowest informal volunteering rate (28%). With respect to informal volunteering through visiting the sick and the elderly, Aboriginal males displayed the highest informal volunteering rate (55%). while NCBF males the lowest (23%). .



Youth who reported at least one ethnic origin other than Canadian, British or French (identified as the NCBF group in this report) contributed almost half of full time jobs devoted to volunteering activities in 1997. Females of this category were remarkably active in both formal and informal volunteering tasks, frequently surpassing the rates of majority youth. The figures from the 1997 NSGVP say a great deal about today's youth and certainly defeat some popular misconceptions that many adults have about minority youth (i.e. apathetic, "ethnically' driven). However, these figures still hide large inter and intra variation in the number and types of voluntary actions undertaken by the NCBF group. Furthermore, more research needs to be done as to why certain groups volunteer more than others.

Volunteering can help integrate minority youth into the community by giving them a taste of institutional life. This opportunity allows for important interactions between Canadians of different cultural or ethnic backgrounds. Youth volunteering contributes to the creation of new social capital in the community. Large social capital make communities more dependable on "the contribution of its members to achieve certain projects or to tackle the problems that arise". Thus, volunteering provides opportunities for members to engage in expressive activities, to pursue special interests and to acquire social skills and strategic knowledge. Voluntary institutions can also be a cushion for the cultural shock experienced by immigrant youth, facilitating and easing their transition into Canadian society.

A vital research area requiring further analysis is the volunteering propensities of minority youth, particularly visible minorities. Propensities may be generationally different. A recent report on the volunteering propensities of Nexus Generation visible minorities suggests that members of this particular group are more likely to volunteer in organizations that help them explore their mixed "cultural " identities

The future of the voluntary sector will rely more heavily on the volunteering, giving, and participation of minority groups as they become a greater percentage of the population. Whether it be a religious organization, a sports team or a community group, having active minority youth will help achieve societal goals of integration and social cohesion. As a measure of equality, the participation of minority youth in voluntary activities is an optimistic sign that minorities do feel included in Canadian society, and are willing to give their time and money to make Canada a better society.

Finally, it is important to state that to maintain social justice for all Canadians, it is important for public and private institutions to encourage and facilitate voluntarism and philanthropy among younger individuals of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. It will be critical to further the goal of civic participation for minority youth through voluntarism and philanthropic involvements. If this is not the case, it must be remedied, for the 'balance' between equality and freedom hinges on the ability to maintain a strong voluntary sector supported by strong rates of participation of younger individuals of minority backgrounds.