Community service from age 18 to 26

A recent study using 35 years of Monitoring the Future data found that community service among high school seniors has increased in recent years. At the same time, civic involvement tends to decrease with age, from 18 to 24, and then levels to age 26. In recent years, this decline over age has been steeper than it was before. Still, the decline in community service across the transition to adulthood has been surprisingly consistent across nearly four decades.


The recent increases at age 18 may be due to increased service-related efforts in high schools around the country and increased demand for service on college entrance applications. Unfortunately the increases in community service at age 18 are not enough to slow the decline of community service in young adulthood. The evidence in this study supports the idea that civic engagement declines as other responsibilities take priority.


Community service at age 18 is higher than average for youth who are girls, ethnic minorities other than white/black/Hispanic, more religious, higher grade-earning, and have higher parent education. Youth with no plans to attend a four-year college report less community service at age 18.


Community service declines more steeply after high school for girls and religious and higher grade-earning youth – some of the same groups that start with more community service in high school. Youth who report no college plans experience less decline than average after high school but this pattern may be due to a low starting level at age 18. A higher college degree is associated with higher levels of community service at every age and a more modest decline over time. Overall, the study points to individual variability in patterns of trajectories of community service.


The developmental course of community service across the transition to adulthood in a national U.S. sample was recently published online in Developmental Psychology. Monitoring the Future is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse