Commentators such as former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw and Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, contend that Americans who came of age during World War II are the “greatest generation,” shouldering more than their fair share of civic duty and patriotic discipline. Meanwhile, observers criticize the baby boomers—Americans born in the years following WWII—as selfish whiners and disenchanted laggards.

But when it comes to volunteering, “this basically isn’t true,” finds DePaul...

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