Where the Boys Aren't

People who dedicate a period of their lives to voluntary service usually have a lot in common. They're nurturing, generous with their time and energy, and eager to help make another person's life better.

They are also usually women.

Since the founding of this country, women have given their time to voluntary service, often church-related, mainly because—until only a few short decades ago—they had limited options to develop a career, and unpaid volunteerism is conducive to family life and time spent in the home. In recent years, however, national initiatives like AmeriCorps and America's Promise have led more and more young Americans to dedicate a part of their lives to the service of others. This leaves many wondering: Why do so many of these volunteers continue to be women? It might be added that the overwhelming majority of volunteers is also white; people of color have never represented a significant percentage of the full-time volunteer corps.

Women give more of their time for a number of reasons, which tend to boil down to two major trends. First, despite a general acceptance of feminism and women's equality in this country, social justice activists feel that women are more naturally drawn to service roles that require a nurturing, empathetic manner. Secondly, there is enormous socioeconomic pressure on men to immediately earn a salary after college.

By the numbers. Several major religious social service umbrella organizations report a largely female population of volunteers, paralleling the trend of women being more active in religious life in general. Both the Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC) and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), two groups that recruit volunteers to live in communities-in-need across the country, report disproportionate female-to-male ratios. The LVC reports a ratio of 80-to-20 women to men; the JVC is between 70 and 75 percent women.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2002
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