Contributing to and leading change

This sections examines young people’s social action: Traditional forms including volunteering Participation in political groups New ways of creating change using technology New ways of creating change with the disciplines of business  

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The Overview

Young people contribute and lead change in traditional ways (volunteering, political groups)

Most young people contribute through social, community or school activity

Traditional forms of community contribution and civic action are still popular with young people in Australia. There is a paucity of population data on these activities but what exists shows that the majority of young people are actively engaged in social and/or community groups (51% and 29% of 15-24 year olds respectively), with no overall differences from adults (ABS 2015).


While young people participate in some activities less than other age groups, the differences are not large.  In addition, Australian population surveys focus on adult activities and do not include the types of involvements young people may have, particularly through schools.  The omission of school activities is significant as a growing number of schools are focusing on connecting students with their communities (Clerke 2013).  Some researchers argue that if young people’s engagements were measured on their own terms, they would be more active than older people (Coleman 2005).

Watch young people taking action in their schools

Pulse cafe CHS extra
school steering committee

Young people volunteer

Volunteering has been found to be the second most popular community activity for young people aged 15 to 17 after participating and watching sport (Mission Australia 2014).  In 2011, just over one in five young people (21%) aged between 12 and 25, or 491 793 people in total, volunteered (ABS 2011).  Overall, young people have been shown to volunteer less than older age groups over time (Baum et al. 1999, Soupourmas & Ironmonger 2002, Ferrier et al 2004 in Pope 2005; Pope 2005; ABS 2006; ABS 2010; ABS 2011). As can be seen below, however, the differences are not large.  More Australians, including young people, are volunteering, but for fewer average hours, and total hours is growing slowly (Productivity Commission 2010; ABS 2011).  Australian young people perform well internationally in terms of volunteering (The Commonwealth 2013).

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More Australians, including young people, are volunteering over time, but for fewer average hours, so total hours is growing slowly (Productivity Commission 2010; ABS 2011).  Some groups of young people are less likely to volunteer including (compared to 18.3% for all young people aged 15 to 20):

  • young men (16.1%)
  • urban (17.8%) and very remote (14.2%) residents
  • Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (12.3%)
  • those with poor English proficiency (6.5%), and
  • those with a disability (16.1%) (ABS 2011).

Low volunteering rates in these groups may be in part related to their lower labour force participation, levels of education and incomes – all of which have been found to be associated with lower levels of volunteering (Queensland Government 2012).  Lower rates for some groups, such as Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and those from other cultures, may also be because those groups volunteer more in informal ways.  Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, for example, have been shown to be more likely to care for other people’s children or people with a disability, and this falls outside the definitions of ‘volunteering for organisations’ asked in most surveys (Queensland Government 2012).

A population survey in Victoria found a lack of interest is not a reason behind low rates of volunteering in any population group, including young people (Pope 2005).  Lower rates were more likely to be the result of other barriers such as time or cost (Pope 2005). This study also showed around 22% of people “think about volunteering, but don’t do it” (Pope 2005).  This suggests that while the proportion increased by 1% between 2006 and 2011, there is still significant room to increase volunteering by young people further (ABS 2006; ABS 2011).

In Australia in 2010, young people predominantly reported they volunteered for:

  • sport and physical recreation organisations
  • religious organisations
  • education and training organisations (ABS 2010).

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Further reading including detailed graphs and analysis

Young people volunteer for a range of reasons but some face barriers

Read More

Watch young people volunteering in their communities

English tea party

Young people are involved in traditional civic activities

Young people are also involved in civic activity in the traditional ways (Collin 2008).  Eleven percent (aged 18 to 24) report they are involved in a civic or political group (compared to 19% of all persons) (ABS 2010).  Many also report signing petitions, participating in groups with other concerned people, or writing letters to politicians (ABS 2010; McAllister & Pietsch 2012).  A small minority also seek office.  For example, from 1999 to 2008 4% of NSW local councillors were under 29, while Victoria’s 43rd parliament has two representatives under 30.

Section 2_traditional activities


  1. Young people are a vital resource
  2. Future challenges for young people
  3. The transition from school to work
  4. Contributing to and leading change