Aug 2, 2023

How Millennials & Gen Z Are Stepping into Generosity

Is society becoming more generous, less generous or staying about the same?

Research in A New Era of Giving—our latest release in The State of Generosity series—explores generations’ perceptions of generosity and offers a glimpse at emerging giving trends among Millennials and Gen Z.

A New Era of Giving

How Millennials & Gen Z Approach Stewardship

Roughly 3 in 10 Gen Z & Millennials Feel Young Adults Are More Generous than Their Elders
The plurality of U.S. adults across the generations thinks collective societal generosity is remaining consistent. Only a minority of adults, no matter which age cohort they belong to, believe society is becoming more generous. This sentiment may stem from tempered expectations about how the baton of generosity is being taken up by young people.

Boomers are the biggest cynics, with more than half (53%) saying younger generations are less generous than older generations. Elders and Gen X, though slightly less pessimistic, also lean toward a negative view of young adults’ generosity. The greatest optimism appears among young adults themselves; more than one in three Gen Z (35%) and 29 percent of Millennials feel young adults are more generous than their elders.

This reveals a (perhaps unsurprising) generational split on views of generational generosity: Young Millennial and Gen Z adults are hopeful their peers will at least maintain the same levels of generosity. Older adults in Gen X, Boomer and Elder generations are skeptical that emerging adults will live up to their standards. In other words, everyone thinks more highly of the generosity of their own age cohort.

Of course, it will be some time before the trendline becomes clear, and this debate depends on how one defines or values generous expressions in the first place. However, Barna’s The State of Generosity project does offer some impressions of how young adults are already making an impact as donors and volunteers.

Stage of Life & Volunteerism Impact Young Adults’ Giving Tendencies
The truth is that Gen Z does lag behind other generations when it comes to financial donations. They are less likely than older adults to report annual charitable giving. Still, half of Gen Z (51%) say they have given financially to charitable organizations, including churches. And Millennials (61%), just ahead of Gen Z, are already on par with Gen X (58%) and Boomers (64%) in charitable giving.

It’s important to keep in mind the many natural reasons that Gen Z young adults are in a stage of life where it may be (or seem to be) difficult to donate. Typically, they are still pursuing higher education, are in early stages of their professional life or may not yet be financially independent. Certainly, they haven’t amassed the resources, experiences and disciplines that allow 72 percent of Elders to report having made charitable donations within the year.

A sense of regularity, like an ongoing pledge or even an automatic withdrawal, may be helpful here. So far, one in three Gen Z (30%) and Millennials (33%) report having set up their support of a nonprofit organization in this routine way, falling just behind Elders.

For now, young adults are keen on finding hands-on ways to practice generosity. Encouragingly, Gen Z and Millennials are the generations most likely to report having volunteered their time to an organization in the past three months. In fact, more than half of adults in Gen Z (54%) say they have expressed generosity in this way, far exceeding all their elders.

In the meantime, young adults seem to be growing in financial consciousness. Among the generations, Gen Z adults are the most likely to say they have planned or evaluated their finances in the past three months. As they nurture this awareness and discipline, perhaps they may recognize and prioritize ways to grow as donors.

A New Era of Giving

How Millennials & Gen Z Approach Stewardship

About the Research

This report is based on an online quantitative survey of 2,016 U.S. adults, conducted from November 12–19, 2021. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Researchers used an online panel for data collection and observed a quota random sampling methodology. Quotas were set to obtain a minimum readable sample by a variety of demographic factors and samples were weighted by region, ethnicity, education, age and gender to reflect their natural presence in the U.S. population (using U.S. Census Bureau data for comparison).

Photo by Katie Harp from Unsplash

© Barna Group, 2023.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

A person extends their hands, holding several coins

Featured Barna Collection

The State of Generosity

We’ve teamed up with Gloo and a collective of partners to study the who, what, why and how of today’s giving landscape. We’re also looking to the future of giving, both in terms of trends and the next generation.

Get Barna in your inbox

Subscribe to Barna’s free newsletters for the latest data and insights to navigate today’s most complex issues.