Thursday, February 28th, 2013
In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of his visit to America that “Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of dispositions are forever forming associations. . . . Nothing, in my view, deserves more attention than the intellectual and moral associations in America.” Writing 160 years after Tocqueville, the American political scientist Robert Putnam described in his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community that Americans were becoming less likely to participate in these associations—that instead of joining bowling leagues, they were “bowling alone.”
That was over ten years ago. How are Americans faring today? In December, the Corporation for National Community Services (CNS) released its report “Volunteering and Civic Life in America,” providing data on the ways Americans are engaging their communities. (We covered the release of that report here.)
The good news is that volunteering rates across the nation have reached a five-year high. The bad news, as the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) has recently highlighted, is that only a third of Americans are involved in any formal organizations at all—meaning that the majority of Americans are not involved in the kinds of voluntary associations that Tocqueville found to be so important.
When we consider the types of organizations that Americans are engaged in, religious organizations receive the highest responses with 20.6% of Americans reporting that they are involved. 15.8% are involved in a school or neighborhood group, 11.4% in a sports or recreation group, 7.7% in a service of civic organization, and 5.8% in any other organization.
Additionally, just 10.6% of Americans serve as an officer or committee member for these organizations.
Alaska ranks highest in the nation for group involvement, with 54.6% of Alaskans reporting they’re involved in some group. Louisiana ranks last with only 31.1% of residents involved. Louisiana also ranks last in group leadership, with only 6.0% of residents serving as an officer or committee member. The highest-ranking state in the country on this measure is Utah with a striking 20.9% of the state’s residents serving in a group leadership role.
Regionally, the Midwest (defined as including the following states: ND, SD, NE, KS, MN, IA, MO, WI, IL, IN, MI, OH) is the most engaged overall in organizations with 40.8% of residents involved in groups and 13.0% involved in leadership roles.