Accessibility links

84% of young people say they “want to help others” – but the words adults are most likely to use to describe young people are “selfish” (29%), “lazy” (27%) and “anti-social” (27%).

Just 5% of adults think young people today are “very likely” to engage in social action, despite 68% of young people saying they took part in such activity in the last year, a new report reveals.

Teenagency, by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, explores how likely young people aged 14-18 are to engage in social action such as volunteering and whether this is related to how creative young people see themselves as being.

YouGov interviewed both adults and 14-18 year olds as part of the report [see methodology], finding a stark gap in attitudes to young people and volunteering.

The Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester, the RSA’s partner in the project, identified research which suggests a link between creativity and having the confidence to do good.

The report finds young people today have a strong desire to help others but many do not feel like they can make a difference: 84% of young people want to help others, but only 52% believe that they can make a positive difference in their communities.

Meanwhile 68% of young people told YouGov they participated in volunteering or other forms of social action, such as campaigning, in the last year. However just 5% of adults think that young people today are “very likely” have taken part, while only 33% said they were “fairly likely” to have done so.

When asked to consider a series of statements that could be used to describe themselves, 84% of young people surveyed selected “I want to help other people”. In contrast, a representative sample of UK adults most commonly selected “selfish” (29%), “lazy” (27%) and “anti-social” (27%) as terms to describe young people today. Less than 4% chose “selfless”.

Religion continues to play an important role in volunteering, it adds: 73% of young people who identify as religious have taken part in social action, compared with 65% of young people who do not consider themselves religious.

The report urges a focus on spreading volunteering opportunities to other groups, especially the least affluent and those who don’t see themselves as creative.

Laura Partridge, report author and senior researcher at the RSA, said:

“Young people today have a strong desire to help others but many do not feel like they can make a difference. Negative stereotyping by adults may contribute to this feeling of helplessness. Our research shows that young people, especially those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, need opportunities to shape the social action they are part of in order to develop the skills and confidence to make a difference. There are simply not enough opportunities like these.”

Professor Bill Lucas, Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester, added:

“This research suggests two things. First, if young people think that they are creative, they are more likely to want to do good in their community. Secondly it reveals that doing good and being creative are mutually reinforcing activities of benefit both to the individuals concerned and to wider society”.



Survey methodology:

The RSA acommissioned an online YouGov survey of 2,013 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26 - 27 April 2018. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+)

The RSA also commissioned an online YouGov survey of 582 children aged 14-18. Fieldwork was undertaken between 27 April - 3 May 2018.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB children aged 14-18.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.



For a copy of the report, contact: Ash Singleton, RSA Head of Press,, 07799 737 970.


The RSA is an independent charity whose mission is to enrich society through ideas and action.

The organisation is led by Matthew Taylor, who recently authored the Taylor Review into modern employment practices for the Prime Minister.

Our work covers a number of areas including the rise of the 'gig economy', robotics & automation; education & creative learning; and reforming public services to put communities in control.