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What's This About?
In this section, we offer selected statistics regarding U.S. youth, together with a few statistics focused on New York State. Links and endnotes will connect you to rich resources for further information. These pages are updated periodically.

Demographics: Community Engagement

What do youth think about their ability to help make the world a better place? The 2012 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey asked high school seniors about their level of agreement these statements [1]:
  • "I feel that I can do very little to change the way the world is today." About one in three high school seniors disagreed or mostly disagreed, while 42% agreed or mostly agreed.
  • "When I think about all the terrible things that have been happening, it is hard for me to hold out much hope for the world." Equal proportions (36%) expressed some level of agreement or disagreement.
Asked how much they think about the social problems of the nation and world and how they might be solved, most 12th-graders (70%) answered "sometimes" (43%), "quite often" (20%), or "a great deal" (7%). They were especially concerned about crime and violence, followed by economic problems [1].

Volunteering and Civic Engagement

Many young people engage in community change: volunteering, participating in civic groups and activities, electoral work, lobbying, and protests. Civic engagement from an early age leads to engagement later in life [2].
  • 26% of youth age 16-19 volunteered in 2015. This rate is about the same as that of all adults 16 and older (25%). Youth most often volunteer for educational or youth service organizations, followed by religious organizations [3].
  • By some measures, youth volunteering and civic participation has increased. In 1991, 24% of high school seniors volunteered or participated in community affairs at least monthly; by 2011 involvement increased to 35% [2].
  • Among high school seniors, school leaders are more likely to be girls [2]. Most girls age 11-17 have been active in a cause, campaign, or organization that they believe in [4].
According to a 2009 survey of teens and "tweens" by the Girl Scout Research Institute, 79% of 7th-12th graders (girls and boys) plan to volunteer. Among all children and youth surveyed (3rd-12th grades), the vast majority intend to vote in the future (84%), and give to charity (76%) [5]. The same study found that many middle and high school youth value people who are racially or ethnically different from them (59%).

In a 2012 survey of high school seniors, 14% indicated they had already given to charities to help fight diseases, and an additional 60% said that they probably or definitely would do it in the future. Most students also indicated that making a contribution to society was "quite important" or "extremely important" [1].


Just over half of high school seniors report that religion plays a "pretty important" or "very important" role in their lives. Religion tends to be especially important to black youth; 47% of black high school seniors and 24% of white high school seniors rate religion as very important (2012 data) [1].
  • 31% of high school seniors and 41% of eighth graders attend services at least weekly [6].
  • Among black high school seniors, 39% attend services at least once a week, compared to 29% of white seniors [6].

Government and Elections

A Child Trends review notes that one-third of high school students do not understand the basics about how government works, and that youth do not see a connection between the things they care about and government/elections. Youth participation in presidential elections rose in 2008: 44% of young adults age 18-24 reported voting, their highest participation rate since 1976. However, voting among this age group declined in the 2012 election. About half of young adults were registered to vote in 2012, and 38% reported voting [7].

In the 2014 election, registered voters under 30 were less likely to be called by campaigns than older constituents [8].

A 2014 study of girls age 11-17 found that 67% are interested in politics. While they believe girls are capable of becoming politicians, they also believe that they would have to work harder than boys to succeed [4].


[1]   Johnston, L. D., Bachman, J. G., & O'Malley, P. M. (2014). Monitoring the future: Questionnaire responses from the nation's high school seniors, 2012. Retrieved September 23, 2016, from
[2]   Kawashima-Ginsberg, K. (2014, March). Harry, Hermione, Ron and Neville--Portraits of American teenagers' extracurricular involvement, and implications for educational interventions. CIRCLE Working Paper #80. Retrieved September 23, 2016, from

[3]   U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2016, February 25.) Economic news release: Volunteering in the United States. Retrieved September 23, 2016, from
[4]   Girl Scouts Research Institute. (2014, October). Running for a change: Girls and politics pulse poll. Retrieved September 23, 2016, from

[5]   Girl Scouts Research Institute. (2009). Good intentions: The beliefs and values of teens and tweens today. Retrieved September 23, 2016, from

[6]   Child Trends Databank. (2014). Attendance at religious services. Retrieved September 23, 2016, from
[7]   Child Trends DataBank. (2015, December). Youth voting. Retrieved September 23, 2016, from
[8]   Pew Research Center. (2014, October 28). Fewer voters report getting robo-calls, campaign ads still pervasive. Retrieved September 23, 2016, from
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