Political participation and civic engagement of youth

by Martin Turcotte

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Overview of the study

This study provides new information on the political participation of youth aged 15 to 24 years. It examines the likelihood of voting in the next federal election (as reported in 2013) and participation in the previous election, as well as participation in non-electoral political activities, such as signing petitions or participating in demonstrations or public meetings. The study also provides information on the degree of civic engagement of youth, which is often perceived as a key indicator of social capital.

  • In 2013, 47% of youth aged 15 to 19 and 61% of youth aged 20 to 24 indicated that they were very likely to vote in the next federal election. This compared with 84% of seniors aged 65 to 74.
  • In 2013, just over one-half of youth aged 15 to 19 and 20 to 24 indicated that they were at least somewhat interested in politics, compared with three-quarters of seniors aged 65 to 74.
  • Among youth aged 15 to 19 who reported that they were not very or not at all interested in politics, 25% were very likely to vote in the next election, compared with 63% of seniors aged 65 to 74 who had the same level of interest in politics.
  • Younger people were more likely than older people to participate in non-electoral civic and political activities. For example, 26% of youth aged 15 to 19 and 35% of youth aged 20 to 24 signed a petition in the 12 months prior to the survey, compared with 22% of seniors aged 65 to 74.
  • The proportion of “politically inactive” persons, defined as those who did not participate in non-electoral political activities and who were not very likely to vote in the next election, was 32% among youth aged 15 to 19 and 26% among youth aged 20 to 24, compared with 12% among seniors aged 65 to 74.

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Introduction

The decline in voter turnout among youth in Canada and other parts of the world has received considerable attention in recent years.Note 1 It has been shown that the general decline in voter turnout is largely the result of a decrease in the voter turnout of youth.Note 2

Exercising the right to vote, although very important in a democracy, is not the only form of political participation or civic engagement. Some authors have pointed out that low voter turnout among Canadian youth should not necessarily be considered a sign of voter apathy.Note 3 In fact, the relatively low turnout may be masking many other types of engagement—both political and civic.

This article explores the various forms of political and civic engagement of Canadian youth aged 15 to 24.

First, the article examines voter turnout among youth in the last federal election (in 2011) and whether they intended to vote in the next federal election (as of 2013). Voter turnout among youth remains a concern as democracy depends on the principles of universality and equality of votes. Furthermore, according to some political scientists, the interests of population groups whose voter turnout is lower, such as youth and persons with a lower socioeconomic status, may not be as well-represented or taken into account by elected governments.Note 4

Second, the article provides information on various political activities other than voting, such as expressing views on the Internet, signing petitions, and participating in marches and demonstrations.

Lastly, information about the civic engagement of youth is presented, namely participation in groups, organizations or associations. These forms of social engagement are often motivated by reasons that are not political or social, such as interest in a sport or artistic endeavour. Nevertheless, civic engagement can have a social impact, for example, when direct assistance is provided to certain populations. As well, public participation in groups or organizations is known to have a positive impact on communities, in particular from a social capital development perspective.Note 5

The data originate from the 2013 General Social Survey (GSS) on Social Identity and the 2003 and 2008 GSS (see Data sources, methods and definitions).

Youth were the least likely to have voted in the last federal election in 2011

In the 2013 GSS, respondents were asked whether they had voted in the last federal election. Since that election was held in 2011, results can be presented for those who were aged 20 and over in 2013 (and eligible to vote at the time of the election).

It has been shown that voter turnout, as measured in surveys, tends to be overestimated compared with the official rates.Note 6 This was also true for the 2013 GSS: among those who were eligible to vote in the last federal election, 81% reported having voted, compared with an official rate of 61%.Note 7 The GSS data, however, shows large differences in voting turnout by age group (Chart 1), like other data sources. Specifically, 60% of youth aged 20 to 24 who were eligible to vote reported having voted in the last federal election, while that number was over 92% among individuals aged 75 and over.

Chart 1 Participation in the last federal election and likelihood of voting in the next election, by age group, 2013

Description for chart 1

Respondents were also asked in 2013 whether they intended to vote in the next federal election. Youth who were not eligible to vote in the 2011 election but who are eligible in the October 2015 election were included in this analysis.

The prospect of being eligible to vote for the first time, however, did not seem to be associated with a higher intention to participate in the electoral process. Specifically, less than one-half of youth aged 15 to 19 (47%) indicated that they were very likely to vote in the next federal election. This proportion increased gradually among older age groups, peaking at 84% among seniors aged 65 to 74 (Chart 1). The intention to vote in the next election then decreased slightly among older individuals, for whom health may sometimes represent a barrier to voting.

Factors associated with voter turnout

Various characteristics other than age are associated with voter turnout. Individuals who are more interested in politics, those who follow news and current affairs regularly and feel a strong sense of belonging to Canada are among the most likely to vote in federal elections.Note 8

Such characteristics, however, are less prevalent among youth. For example, 51% of youth aged 15 to 19 and 53% of youth aged 20 to 24 in 2013 reported being somewhat or very interested in politics, compared with 61% among those aged 35 to 44 and 75% of seniors aged 65 to 74 (Chart 2).Note 9

Chart 2 Interest in politics, frequency of following news and current affairs, and sense of belonging to Canada, by age group, 2013

Description for chart 2

The extent to which individuals follow the news and current affairs also varies by age. In 2013, 22% of youth aged 15 to 19 said that they followed news or current affairs on a daily basis, a proportion that increased to 55% among individuals aged 35 to 44 and to 87% among those aged 75 and over. Note that youth use information sources that are largely different from those used by older Canadians (see How do youth stay informed?).

Older Canadians were also more likely than younger ones to express a very strong sense of belonging to Canada.

The differences between age groups for each of these factors may help to understand, in part, why youth were less likely to say that they intended to vote in the next election. When the three factors discussed above were taken into account in a multivariate model (along with other characteristics),Note 10 the differences between younger and older voters decreased.

For example, without control variables, the difference between youth aged 20 to 24 and individuals aged 65 to 74 was 23 percentage points (61% and 84%, respectively). When the other factors were taken into account, the difference decreased to 15 percentage points (Table 1).Note 11

Table 1
Likelihood of voting in the next federal election, persons aged 15 and over, 2013
Table summary
This table displays the results of Likelihood of voting in the next federal election Very likely to vote in the upcoming federal election, Population aged 15 and over, Population aged 15 to 24 and Population aged 25 and over, calculated using percentage and predicted probability units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Very likely to vote in the next federal election
Population aged 15 and over Population aged 15 to 24 Population aged 25 and over
percentage predicted probability percentage predicted probability percentage predicted probability
Age group  
15 to 19Note 1 (ref.) 47 0.53 47 0.47 Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
20 to 24 61Note * 0.67Note * 61Note * 0.61Note * Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
25 to 34Note 2 63Note * 0.67Note * Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable 63 0.68
35 to 44 72Note * 0.73Note * Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable 72Note * 0.74Note *
45 to 54 76Note * 0.74Note * Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable 76Note * 0.75Note *
55 to 64 83Note * 0.80Note * Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable 83Note * 0.81Note *
65 to 74 84Note * 0.82Note * Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable 84Note * 0.82Note *
75 and over 82Note * 0.80Note * Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable 82Note * 0.81Note *
Sex  
Male (ref.) 72 0.71 55 0.52 75 0.74
Female 72 0.74Note * 55 0.58Note * 75 0.77Note *
Immigrant status  
Not an immigrant (ref.) 75 0.75 58 0.58 78 0.78
Not an immigrant, at least one parent foreign-born 73 0.73Note * 52 0.52Note * 77 0.76
Immigrant 65Note * 0.65Note * 42Note * 0.45Note * 67Note * 0.69Note *
Aboriginal identity  
No (ref.) 73 0.73 55 0.55 76 0.76
Yes 63Note * 0.68Note * 55 0.55 65Note * 0.70Note *
Household income  
Less than $60,000 (ref.) 69 0.69 51 0.50 71 0.72
$60,000 to $99,999 74Note * 0.74Note * 56 0.57Note * 77Note * 0.77Note *
$100,000 to $149,999 78Note * 0.77Note * 67Note * 0.62Note * 80Note * 0.79Note *
$150,000 and over 83Note * 0.79Note * 67Note * 0.63Note * 86Note * 0.82Note *
Not stated 65Note * 0.69 43 0.49 69 0.72
Province  
Newfoundland and Labrador 73 0.70 47 0.49 76 0.74
Prince Edward Island 74 0.73 56Note E: Use with caution 0.63 77 0.74
Nova Scotia 75Note * 0.74 49 0.46 79Note * 0.78
New Brunswick 72 0.73 34Note *Note E: Use with caution 0.41 78Note * 0.78
Quebec 75Note * 0.75Note * 64Note * 0.64Note * 77Note * 0.77
Ontario (ref.) 72 0.72 54 0.54 74 0.75
Manitoba 67Note * 0.71 50 0.57 70Note * 0.73
Saskatchewan 69 0.69Note * 42 0.40Note * 74 0.74
Alberta 70Note * 0.69 48 0.44Note * 74 0.73
British Columbia 73 0.74 57 0.61 76 0.76
Interest in politics  
Not very or not at all interested (ref.) 49 0.56 34 0.38 53 0.59
Somewhat interested 82Note * 0.80Note * 68Note * 0.66Note * 84Note * 0.83Note *
Very interested 92Note * 0.89Note * 90Note * 0.87Note * 92Note * 0.89Note *
Frequency of following the news and current affairs  
Daily (ref.) 80 0.75 69 0.60 81 0.77
Several times each week 70Note * 0.73 64 0.61 72Note * 0.75Note *
Several times each month 59Note * 0.69Note * 43Note * 0.47Note * 66Note * 0.74Note *
Rarely or never 46Note * 0.66Note * 34Note * 0.47Note * 51Note * 0.69Note *
Frequency of participation in group activities or meetings  
No participation (ref.) 65 0.71 49 0.54 68 0.73
Less than once a month 76Note * 0.75Note * 57 0.54 77Note * 0.78Note *
Once a month or more 76Note * 0.73Note * 58Note * 0.56 80Note * 0.77Note *
Volunteering in the past 12 months  
No (ref.) 69 0.71 52 0.53 72 0.74
Yes 78Note * 0.76Note * 58Note * 0.58 82Note * 0.79Note *
Trust in general: Generally speaking, most people can be trusted  
No (ref.) 67 0.71 51 0.54 70 0.74
Yes 77Note * 0.74Note * 59Note * 0.56 80Note * 0.77Note *
Very strong sense of belonging to Canada  
No (ref.) 64 0.69 51 0.52 67 0.71
Yes 77Note * 0.75Note * 58Note * 0.57Note * 80Note * 0.78Note *

The remaining difference means, however, that much of the gap between youth and other adults is the result of factors not measured by the survey. One of these factors may be the fact that youth are less likely than older adults to consider electoral participation as a civic duty. Civic values have been shown, in other studies, to be strongly linked to the probability of voting in elections.Note 12

To a large extent, the various associations found between background factors and voting participation applied to younger individuals aged 15 to 24 and to those aged 25 and over (Table 1). For example, in both population groups (15 to 24 and 25 and older), a lower proportion of immigrants said that they were very likely to vote in the next election.

For other population groups, the story differed between younger and older voters. Among those aged 25 and over, Aboriginal people (65%) were less likely than non-Aboriginals (76%) to report that they were very likely to vote in the next election. Aboriginal youth aged 15 to 24, however, were as likely as non-Aboriginals of the same age to report that they were very likely to vote in the next election (55% in both cases). In 2011, the Aboriginal population represented approximately 6% of the total population of youth aged 15 to 24, a proportion greater than for the overall population.Note 13

Some factors, such as region of residence, were more likely to be associated with voter turnout among youth, but less so among individuals aged 25 and over. Among those aged 15 to 24, 64% of citizens living in Quebec were very likely to vote in the next election, compared with 54% in Ontario, 48% in Alberta and 34% in New Brunswick. Regional variations were smaller among those aged 25 and over.Note 14

The relationship between interest in politics and voting participation also varied between the two age groups. This is because the difference in voter turnout between those who were not very interested or not at all interested in politics and those who were very interested in politics was significantly larger among those aged 15 to 24.

Regardless of age, those who were the most interested in politics reported that they were very likely to vote in the next election, with percentages varying between 84% and 96% (Chart 3).

Chart 3 Persons who reported that they were very likely to vote in the next federal election, by level of interest in politics and age group, 2013

Description for chart 3

The results, however, were quite different among those who were not very interested in politics. Specifically, among Canadians aged 15 to 19 who reported that they were not very or not at all interested, 25% were very likely to vote in the next election, while the corresponding proportion was 63% among Canadians aged 65 to 74. Such results were also confirmed by the multivariate models.Note 15

Reasons for not voting in the previous federal election

Another way to understand voter turnout (or lack thereof) is to directly ask non-voters to provide a reason for not voting. Only persons aged 20 and over are included in this analysis in order to focus on those who were eligible to vote in 2011 but who did not exercise that right.

Among youth aged 20 to 24 who did not vote in the last federal election, 1 in 6 reported that it was because they were not informed on issues (17%). In comparison, this reason was given by 10% of non-voters aged 25 to 54 and only 3% of those aged 55 and over.Note 16 This result mirrors the lower level of interest of youth in politics, as well as their lower propensity to follow news and current affairs on a regular basis.

A second reason, which was given more commonly by non-voters aged 20 to 24, was that they were too busy (12%, compared with approximately 11% of non-voters aged 25 to 54 and 5% of those aged 55 and over). Younger non-voters were also relatively more likely to report work or school-schedule conflicts as a reason for not voting (8%) in comparison with those aged 55 and over (2%).

A relatively small portion of 20- to 24-year-olds said that they had not voted because they did not think their vote would affect the outcome (3%), at least in comparison with the 7% of non-voters aged 25 to 54 and the 10% of those aged 55 and over who provided that reason. Lastly, the proportion of youth aged 20 to 24 who said that they did not like the candidates or campaign issues was almost two times lower than the proportion for persons aged 55 and over who provided that reason (6% versus 11%, respectively).

Non-electoral political activities

The trends described above do not mean that youth are not interested in social and political issues. For example, an earlier Statistics Canada study based on data from the 2003 GSS showed that Canadians aged 15 to 24 were as likely as their older counterparts─if not more likely─to take part in certain political activities, such as marches or demonstrations.Note 17 Did young people aged 15 to 24 participate in such activities in 2013? And if so, how does this compare with 2003?

Between 2003 and 2013, the participation of youth aged 15 to 24 in non-electoral political activities remained relatively stable or, in some cases, decreased. For example, the proportion of youth who attended a public meeting declined by 5 percentage points, from 16% in 2003 to 11% in 2013 (Chart 4). There was also a decline in the proportion of youth who took part in a demonstration or a march, and in the proportion of youth who expressed their views by contacting a newspaper or a politician. That said, the general population’s participation rate in these political activities also declined.Note 18

Chart 4 Participation of youth aged 15 to 24 in non-electoral political activities, 2003, 2008 and 2013

Description for chart 4

Younger Canadians, however, remained generally more inclined than their older counterparts to participate in a number of non-electoral political activities in 2013. Some studies indicate that the forms of political participation popular among youth are characterized by (1) an emphasis on specific causes and issues (for example, the environment, access to education or gender equality) as opposed to the more general political issues discussed in an election; and (2) participation in social groups or movements that are less hierarchical and less officially organized (for example, interest groups) as opposed to involvement in traditional political organizations, such as political parties or unions.Note 19

Signing a petition is one such activity. In the 12 months preceding the survey, 26% of youth aged 15 to 19 and 35% of youth aged 20 to 24 signed a petition, compared with 22% of those aged 65 to 74 and 14% of those aged 75 and over (Table 2).

Table 2
Likelihood of voting in the next federal election and participation in other political activities, by age group, school attendance and highest level of education, 2013
Table summary
This table displays the results of Likelihood of voting in the next federal election and participation in other political activities Very likely to vote in the upcoming federal election, Expressing views on an issue by contacting a newspaper or a politician, Expressing views on a political or social issue on an Internet forum or news website, Signing a petition, Boycotting or choosing a product for ethical reasons, Attending a public meeting, Participating in a demonstration or march and Wearing a badge or T-shirt, or displaying a sign in support of or in opposition to a social or political cause, calculated using percentage units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Very likely to vote in the next federal election Expressing views on an issue by contacting a newspaper or a politician Expressing views on a political or social issue on an Internet forum or news website Signing a petition Boycotting or choosing a product for ethical reasons Attending a public meeting Participating in a demonstration or march Wearing a badge or T-shirt, or displaying a sign in support of or in opposition to a social or political cause
percentage
Total 72 10 14 27 22 15 5 11
Age group  
15 to 19Note 1 47Note * 4Note * 13Note * 26 13Note * 10Note * 7Note * 14Note *
20 to 24 61Note * 6Note * 21Note * 35Note * 25 12Note * 10Note * 15Note *
25 to 34 63Note * 9Note * 16Note * 32Note * 28Note * 12Note * 5 11
35 to 44 72Note * 10 15Note * 30Note * 27Note * 16 5 11
45 to 54 (ref.) 76 11 10 27 23 16 4 10
55 to 64 83Note * 13Note * 9 26 23 18 4 10
65 to 74 84Note * 15Note * 8Note * 22Note * 18Note * 19Note * 2Note * 8
75 and over 82Note * 10 3Note * 14Note * 9Note * 14Note * 1 7Note *
School attendance and highest level of education  
Persons aged 15 to 24  
Attending high school 38Note * 3Note *Note E: Use with caution 11Note * 20Note * 9Note * 9 6 13Note *
Attending college or trade school 60 6Note E: Use with caution 14Note *Note E: Use with caution 36 22 12Note E: Use with caution 9Note E: Use with caution 16Note E: Use with caution
Attending university (ref.) 66 8Note E: Use with caution 27 40 26 13 12 20
Not going to school, high school diploma or less 43Note * 3Note *Note E: Use with caution 16Note * 27Note * 14Note * 11Note E: Use with caution 8Note E: Use with caution 9
Not going to school, postsecondary degree 64 5Note E: Use with caution 16Note * 34 27 12Note E: Use with caution 9Note E: Use with caution 11
Persons aged 25 to 44  
High school diploma or less 55Note * 6 12Note * 23Note * 19Note * 10 3 9Note *
Trades certificate or college degree 67 9 14Note * 32Note * 25 13 4Note * 10Note *
University degree 75Note * 12Note * 19Note * 36 35Note * 18Note * 7Note * 13Note *
Persons aged 45 to 64  
High school diploma or less 73Note * 8 6Note * 20Note * 13Note * 12 2Note * 7Note *
Trades certificate or college diploma 81Note * 12Note * 10Note * 28Note * 25 17Note * 4Note * 11Note *
University degree 85Note * 18Note * 15Note * 34 35Note * 24Note * 7Note * 14Note *
Persons aged 65 and over  
High school diploma or less 79Note * 8 3Note * 11Note * 8Note * 11 1 6Note *
Trades certificate or college diploma 87Note * 16Note * 7Note * 22Note * 16Note * 19Note * 2 7Note *
University degree 90Note * 22Note * 13Note * 35 30 28Note * 4 14Note *

Youth were approximately twice as likely as older population groups to have worn a badge or T-shirt, or to have held up a sign in support of or in opposition to a political or social cause in the past 12 months. In addition, 7% of youth aged 15 to 19 and 10% of youth aged 20 to 24 took part in a demonstration or a march in 2013, compared with 2% of seniors aged 65 to 74.

Additionally, 21% of young adults aged 20 to 24 reported having expressed their views on a political or social issue through an Internet forum or news website, more than twice the proportion for individuals aged 45 to 54 (10%) or seniors aged 65 to 74 (8%).

One way to measure the degree of activity among youth is to calculate the proportion who participated in multiple political activities in a given year. Youth aged 20 to 24, in particular, were more likely to be active, as 20% of them had participated in three or more non-electoral political activities in 2013─the highest proportion of all age groups (Chart 5). The intensity of political activity, however, was lower among those aged 15 to 19, with 11% participating in at least three activities.

Chart 5 Number of political activities in which persons participated in the past 12 months, by age group, 2013

Description for chart 5

In addition, 47% of youth aged 20 to 24 did not participate in any activity in the past 12 months, the lowest percentage of all age groups. This proportion increased in subsequent age groups, reaching 56% for seniors aged 65 to 74 and 69% for those aged 75 and over.

Among those who did not participate to non-electoral political activities, however, older Canadians were significantly more likely than their younger counterparts to say that they intended to vote in the next federal election. Among those who did not participate in any non-electoral political activity in the past 12 months, 79% of persons aged 65 to 74 were very likely to vote in the next election, compared with 38% of their counterparts aged 15 to 19 and 45% of those aged 20 to 24.

Consequently, the proportion of “politically inactive” persons─that is, persons who did not participate in any political activity in the past 12 months and who were not very likely to vote in the next federal election─was larger among the youth.Note 20

According to this definition, the share of persons who could be considered politically inactive was 32% for those aged 15 to 19 and 26% for those aged 20 to 24. In comparison, the corresponding proportions were 17% for individuals aged 45 to 54 and 12% for those aged 65 to 74.

Education and political participation

Education is a significant factor in political participation.Note 21 Regardless of age group, a higher level of education is associated with increased participation in all types of political activities covered by the GSS.

The link between educational attainment and voter turnout is more difficult to study among youth aged 15 to 24 because most of them are still going to school. Nevertheless, there was an association between level of schooling and the intensity and nature of political participation. Younger Canadians who attend university, in particular, are more likely to be interested in social issues and are more politically involved.

Specifically, youth who attended university were the most likely to (1) express their views on a social or political issue through an Internet forum or news website; (2) sign a petition; (3) participate in a demonstration; and (4) wear a badge or T-shirt, or hold up a sign in support of or in opposition to a political or social cause (Table 2). Despite these results, the proportion of young university students who intended to vote in the next federal election remained lower than for the population as a whole (66% vs. 72%).

In contrast, youth aged 15 to 24 who were in high school were among the least likely to take part in various political activities, likely because of their young age.

Civic engagement of youth

The ties between citizens and society or members of their community are clearly not limited to political activities. Civic engagement, although not necessarily political, may also affect the well-being of communities and society. Various studies have shown that participation in volunteer associations can foster the political participation of individuals.Note 22

The GSS collected information different groups, organizations and associations to which Canadians belong. A group may be officially organized or informal, that is, a group of people who meet regularly to do an activity or discuss various topics.

According to the data on civic engagement, youth are among the most socially engaged. In 2013, 74% of youth aged 15 to 19 and 64% of youth aged 20 to 24 were part of a group, organization or association (Table 3). This compared with 65% of individuals aged 45 to 54 and 62% of individuals aged 65 to 74.

Table 3
Participation in groups, organizations and associations, by age group, 2013
Table summary
This table displays the results of Participation in groups Age group, 15 to 19, 20 to 24, 25 to 34, 35 to 44, 45 to 54 (ref.), 55 to 64, 65 to 74 and 75 and over, calculated using percentage units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Age group
15 to 19 20 to 24 25 to 34 35 to 44 45 to 54 (ref.) 55 to 64 65 to 74 75 and over
percentage
Type of group, organization or association  
Member of a group, organization or association (all types) 74Note * 64 65 69Note * 65 64 62 59Note *
Union or professional association 12Note * 21Note * 33 37 36 30Note * 16Note * 9Note *
Political organization 3Note *Note E: Use with caution 3 3 3 4 5 7Note * 7Note *
Sports or recreational organization 51Note * 36Note * 33Note * 34Note * 29 27Note * 24Note * 16Note *
Cultural, educational or hobby organization 28Note * 25Note * 17 19 18 20Note * 24Note * 20
Group with religious affiliations 15 11Note * 10Note * 14 14 15 19Note * 22Note *
School group, or neighbourhood, civic or community association 31Note * 23Note * 17 20Note * 16 14Note * 14 10Note *
Service club 5 4Note *Note E: Use with caution 3Note * 5Note * 6 8Note * 11Note * 11Note *
Youth organization 15Note * 8Note * 5 5 4 3Note * 2Note * 1Note *Note E: Use with caution
Immigrant or ethnic association or club 3Note E: Use with caution 3Note E: Use with caution 2Note * 3 3 3 3 3

Furthermore, the rate of civic engagement of youth increased over the decade (contrary to some non-electoral political activities). Between 2003 and 2013, the proportion of youth aged 15 to 24 who were members of or participants in a group, organization or association rose by 5 percentage points, from 64% to 69%. The increase was even larger among those aged 15 to 19—74% were part of a group in 2013, compared with 68% a decade earlier.Note 23

The types of groups to which youth belong differ in a number of ways from those preferred by their older counterparts. In 2013, youth were particularly inclined to participate in sports or recreational organizations; cultural, educational or hobby organizations; and school groups or neighbourhood, civic or community associations.

For example, 43% of youth aged 15 to 24 were members of a sports or recreational organization, compared with 29% of those aged 25 and over (Chart 6). Among youth aged 15 to 19, more than one-half (51%) were members of or participants in sports or recreational organizations.

Chart 6 Persons who are members of or participants in a group, organization or association, by type of group or organization and age group, 2013

Description for chart 6

However, youth were generally less likely than older people to belong to a union or professional association (which is to be expected, since many youth are still full-time students), service club, group with religious affiliations, or political organization.Note 24 As a corollary, members of political organizations are aging quickly in Canada. Between 2003 and 2013, the proportion of members of political organizations aged 65 and over increased from 18% to 29%.

Participation in group activities or meetings and volunteering

Youth, in addition to being more likely to belong to groups, also participated in them more regularly. In 2013, 45% of youth aged 15 to 19 and 30% of youth aged 20 to 24 took part in group activities or meetings at least once a week, in comparison with 20% of individuals aged 45 to 54 and 25% among those aged 65 to 74 (Chart 7).

Chart 7 Frequency of participation in group activities or meetings, by age group, 2013

Description for chart 7

These differences in frequency of participation may have consequences for the development of social capital. For example, in 2013, 76% of persons aged 15 to 24 who participated monthly in group activities had met, in the past month, at least one new person with whom they intended to stay in contact. In comparison, that proportion was 68% for those who participated less frequently in group activities, and 59% for those who were not members of or participants in a group.Note 25

Lastly, volunteering is known to have a positive impact not only on organizations and their beneficiaries, but also on the volunteers themselves. As was the case with participation in groups or organizations, younger individuals had the highest volunteering participation rates. In 2013, according to the GSS data on giving, volunteering and participating, 66% of youth aged 15 to 19 volunteered.Note 26 This compared with 48% for individuals aged 35 to 44, who had the second-highest rate of volunteering. Young volunteers, however, tend to contribute fewer hours than their older counterparts.

Conclusion

This study, which was based on data from the 2013 GSS, has shown that younger people are less likely to vote than older individuals and are also less likely to report that they intend to vote in the next election. Younger people also tend to be less interested in politics than their older counterparts. These trends, however, conceal a relatively high degree of engagement in other activities. For example, many young Canadians are politically and civically engaged, but in different ways. The youngest of them —those aged 15 to 19—were the most likely of all age groups to be members of or participants in groups, organizations or associations. They were also the most likely to participate at least once a week in group activities or meetings.

Youth aged 20 to 24 are among the most engaged of all in political activities such as signing petitions and participating in demonstrations or marches. Young university students stood out in particular, as they had the highest participation rates for almost all these types of activities. In short, when alternative ways of participating in political and civic activities are considered, it is clear that a significant portion of young individuals are interested in public affairs.

However, the proportion of politically inactive individuals—those who did not participate in any political activity in the past 12 months and who were not highly likely to vote in the next election—was larger among youth. The lower voter turnout among younger individuals promises to be a topic of interest and concern in the coming years.

Martin Turcotte is a senior analyst in the Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division at Statistics Canada.

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