One of the sticky stereotypes of single people is that they are selfish and self-centered. Supposedly, they are not the ones volunteering in their communities – married people are. But is that really so? The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects systematic data on eight major categories of volunteer work (and two miscellaneous categories). The most recent report shows that the perception of single people as self-centered is just a myth. When it comes to volunteering, single people contribute to every kind of organization as often or more often than married people do, with just one exception.

In the survey, volunteering was defined as activities done through an organization that were unpaid (except maybe for expenses). Survey respondents named the organization for which they volunteered the most hours of work. Participants were adults 16 and older from about 60,000 U.S. households.

Here are the findings for each kind of organization. The numbers are the percent of people in each category who volunteered. The single people are people who have always been single.

#1 Hospitals or Other Health Organizations

Who volunteered the most? Single people.

8.2 Single

7.8 Divorced, separated, and widowed

5.7 Married

#2 Environmental or Animal Care

Who volunteered the most? Single people.

4.6 Single

2.8 Divorced, separated, and widowed

2.2 Married

#3 Educational or Youth Services

Who volunteered the most? Single people.

27.0 Single

18.9 Divorced, separated, and widowed

26.2 Married

It is particularly interesting that lifelong single people volunteer more than married or previously married people in organizations serving children, since they are least likely to have children.

#4 Sports, Hobbies, Cultural, or the Arts

Who volunteered the most? Single people.

4.3 Single

3.5 Divorced, separated, and widowed

3.4 Married

#5 Religious Organizations

Who volunteered the most? Married people.

23.5 Single

31.2 Divorced, separated, and widowed

37.6 Married

This is the only category, out of the 10, for which married people volunteered more than single people did. The difference is very big. In fact, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics averaged across all the different kinds of volunteering, it looked like married people volunteered more than single people. But that only happened for volunteering for religious organizations.

#6 Public Safety

Who volunteered the most? Single people.

1.2  Single

0.8  Divorced, separated, and widowed

1.1 Married

#7 Civic, Political, Professional, or International Organizations

Who volunteered the most? Divorced, separated, and widowed people.

4.7 Single

5.4 Divorced, separated, and widowed

4.7 Married

#8 Social or Community Service

Who volunteered the most? Divorced, separated, and widowed people.

16.4 Single

19.5 Divorced, separated, and widowed

12.6 Married

#9 Misc: Can’t tell which category the organization belongs to.

Who volunteered the most? Single people.

4.2 Single

2.8 Divorced, separated, and widowed

2.3 Married

#10 Misc: The organization is in some category other than the first eight (e.g., immigrant or refugee assistance organizations).

Who volunteered the most? Divorced, separated, and widowed people.

5.9 Single

7.4 Divorced, separated, and widowed

4.2 Married

Conclusions

People of all different marital statuses contribute to their communities. Married people are most likely to contribute to religious organizations. Divorced, separated, and widowed people are most likely to contribute to (a) social or community service organizations; (b) civic, political, professional, or international organizations, and (c) one of the two miscellaneous categories. Lifelong single people are most likely to volunteer for every other kind of organization:

  • Hospitals or other health organizations
  • Environmental organizations or organizations devoted to animal care
  • Educational or youth services
  • Sports, hobbies, cultural organizations, or the arts
  • Public safety organizations
  • A miscellaneous category

In direct comparisons of lifelong single people to married people, the single people never volunteered less than married people except in religious organizations.

We know from previous research that single people are also especially helpful to people in their social networks such as neighbors, friends, siblings, and parents. They are generous in practical ways and they are emotionally giving as well.

The stereotype of single people as selfish or self-centered is one of most pervasive stereotypes and one of the hardest to dispel. It is time to retire it.