Animal Advocacy In The U.S. & Canada: Advocate Origins
In July, Faunalytics published a study about the state of animal advocacy in the U.S. and Canada. The study focused on advocates’ current experiences but also included questions about how advocates got their start in the movement. These included how they first became interested in animal advocacy and the type of animals they advocated for at the outset: for instance, farmed animals or companion animals.
This analysis provides detail about those questions, because understanding how advocates become involved in the movement is important for bringing in new advocates and encouraging movement growth.
R code for this analysis is available on the Open Science Framework, along with the other data, reports, and materials based on this dataset.
161 animal advocates participated in this study. 77.8% of the sample self-identified as female, 21.5% as male, and 0.6% as non-binary. The average age of advocates in this study was approximately 39 years old (SD = 12.6 years). The sample was well-educated (93.1% of the sample had a post-secondary degree) and mostly (81.4%) vegan or plant-based. For a detailed description of the sample, please refer to the main study.
When Did Advocates Get Their Start?
Many of the advocates surveyed became involved with animal advocacy in the last ten years, with nearly 47% getting started between 2010 and 2019. Relatedly, many of the advocates surveyed were young adults: Roughly half were under 35 years old. Of the advocates who started between 2010 and 2019, roughly 28% (45 advocates) started between 2010 and 2015 and just under 19% (30 advocates) started within the last 5 years.
Why Do People Become Animal Advocates And Where Do They Go From There?
We asked advocates their biggest reason for getting involved in animal advocacy. This is crucial for understanding which avenues may be most successful in creating new advocates in the future.
As shown in the figure above, advocates became involved for a range of reasons — there was no “silver bullet” for making a person into an advocate. Approximately 37% were compelled to get involved in the movement after being exposed to some sort of media which discussed animal welfare or portrayed animal suffering. For example, 13% had watched a full-length documentary, such as Earthlings (2005). 10% of respondents became involved in animal advocacy after reading a book or article, such as Animal Liberation (by Peter Singer).
A General Desire to Make a Difference
A general desire to make a difference (not specific to animal advocacy) was another common motivation for getting involved in the movement. Just under 25% of advocates became involved in animal advocacy this way.
19% of advocates got their start as a result of interpersonal experiences. Some advocates were recruited by someone close to them, like a friend or a partner, while others were inspired to become involved in the movement by other advocates—in-person or online. For example, one individual made dietary changes and became involved in animal advocacy following an animal rights event, where he/she/they were motivated, “not [by] the speaker, but a person in the audience who spoke about the impact of the dairy industry on cows.” Others were encouraged to become involved in the movement by seemingly inconsequential conversations. For instance, one participant became involved in advocacy following “a casual conversation with a vegetarian.”
Finally, a number of advocates had reasons that did not perfectly align with the provided responses. Roughly 20% of advocates endorsed “other” reasons for becoming involved in the movement. Participants were given the opportunity to elaborate on those reasons and a few themes emerged: some advocates were influenced by a love for, or the adoption of, a companion animal. Others were compelled to become involved following exposure to animal suffering in-person (e.g., one respondent visited a dairy farm). Another way people were inspired to become advocates was through post-secondary education—some participants reported that a course such as Moral Philosophy challenged their beliefs, which is very encouraging.
With the understanding that these were advocates’ main entry points, we looked at whether the general way advocates became involved in the movement—through media, interpersonal experiences, a non-animal specific desire to help, or something else—could have had any influence on their long-term commitment.
We analyzed whether those origins influenced how long they’ve been in the movement or how many hours they put in per week, but found that there was no difference. Advocates who were “on-boarded” in different ways did not differ in their length of advocacy or hours per week (Fs < 1.1, ps > .38).
Next, we looked at whether advocates with different origins differed in terms of their likelihood to be paid or unpaid for their current contributions to the movement, but they were not (x2 = 5.17, p > .15).
How advocates became involved in the movement was marginally related to their level of education (x2 = 7.20, p < .07). Specifically, advocates who became involved in the movement for “other reasons”—for example, individuals who took an academic course that challenged their beliefs—were more likely to have completed post-secondary education (100%) than advocates who became involved in the movement because of a general desire to help (84.6%).
How advocates became involved in the movement was also significantly associated with their current diet (x2 = 21.56, p < .0001). Advocates who became involved in the movement because of a non-animal specific desire to help—who endorsed statements like “I wanted to volunteer/gain employment in any domain where I could make a difference”—were less likely to be vegan or plant-based than advocates who became involved in the movement through media (p < .001). Individuals who became involved in the movement because of a general desire to help were also less likely to be vegan or plant-based than advocates who became involved in the movement because of interpersonal experiences (p < .01) and advocates who became involved in the movement for other reasons, such as being exposed to animal suffering (p < .03).
Finally, we wondered if how advocates became involved in the movement was related to their primary cause area when they first became an animal advocate or the type of advocacy they currently engage in. So, for example, were advocates who were drawn to the movement through media—perhaps by watching a documentary about factory farming—more likely to advocate for farmed animals? It appears that how advocates became involved in the movement was not related to their first cause area. We did find it was related to their current area of advocacy, specifically for farmed animal advocates (x2 = 9.29, p < .03), but not for companion animal advocates or advocates for other types of animals.
Participants who became involved in the movement through media were more likely to advocate for farmed animals than participants who became involved in the movement because of a general desire to help (p < .01). Participants who became involved in the movement through interpersonal experiences were also marginally more likely to advocate for farmed animals than participants who became involved in the movement because of a general desire to help as well (p < .09).
Where Do Animal Advocates Start And Where Do They Go From There?
We asked advocates what their primary area of advocacy was when they first became involved in the movement. As shown in the table below, the majority of advocates (roughly 53%) got their start advocating for animals who are farmed for food or clothing. The next most common cause area for individuals getting their start in advocacy was companion animals. Wild animals, animals used in research, and animals used for work or entertainment were less commonly cited as advocates’ first cause areas. Below, we explore how advocates’ first cause areas are related to their current work.
First, we looked at advocates’ first cause area—farmed animals, companion animals, or other types of animals (including animals used in research, wild animals, animals used for work or entertainment, and others)—to see whether it influenced how long they’ve been in the movement or how many hours they put in per week. Note that the “other” causes had to be combined into a single category because there were too few respondents to analyze them separately.
Advocates’ first cause area was not related to how many hours they put in per week (F < .92, p > .40). The groups—farmed animals, companion animals, or other types of animals—did significantly differ in the length of time they have been involved in the movement. Specifically, advocates for farmed animals and advocates for companion animals had been involved in the movement for significantly less time than advocates for other types of animals.
Next, we looked at whether advocates’ first cause area was related to their level of education, but it was not (p > .12).
We also examined whether advocates’ first cause area was related to their diet, which it was (x2 = 26.64, p < .00001). Specifically, advocates who got their start advocating for farmed animals were far more likely to be vegan or plant-based than advocates who got their start advocating for companion animals (p < .001). Advocates who support other types of animals—those used in research, work or entertainment, for example—were marginally more likely to be vegan or plant-based than advocates of companion animals as well (p <.09).
Finally, we also looked at whether advocates with different initial cause areas differed in terms of their likelihood to be paid or unpaid for their current contributions to the movement, but they did not (x2 = 0.85, p > .65).
Cause Area Variability
We were curious to see if advocates’ first cause area—farmed animals, companion animals, or other types of animals—was related to their current or most recent cause area(s). That is, when people start out in a given cause area, do they tend to continue advocating in that area or move to another?
The figure below shows three clusters of bars, each of which shows which animals the advocate currently supports.
The first cluster of bars shows advocates who currently support farmed animals. As shown, most advocates (86%) who got their start advocating for farmed animals still advocate in that area. Those advocates who started with farmed animals were significantly more likely to be advocating for farmed animals than advocates who started with companion animals are (p < .001). The other differences within the first cluster were not significant (p > .2).
Similar results were found for participants currently advocating for companion animals—the second cluster of bars. Advocates who presently advocate for companion animals were most likely to have gotten their start advocating for companion animals as well (51.1%). This is significantly more than the proportion who initially advocated for farmed animals (p < .001). The other differences in the second cluster were not significant (p >.1).
Participants who currently advocate for other animals—the third cluster of bars—were most likely to have started with other animals as well (60%). They were marginally more likely to have gotten their start advocating for other animals than with companion animals or farmed animals (ps < .09). The final difference in this cluster (between farmed and companion animals) was not significant (p >.78).
These results suggest there is consistency and variability in the types of animals people advocate for throughout their careers. In all cases, the majority of participants still advocate for the same animals they started with, but the proportion varies. While most people (86%) who started in farmed animal advocacy continue to advocate for farmed animals, just 51% of those who started off advocating for companion animals continue to do so, and 60% of people who got their start advocating for other types animals (e.g., used in research and entertainment) continue to do so.
The results suggest that a large proportion of advocates come into the movement through types of advocacy that they later move away from — often incorporating farmed animal advocacy later on.
This analysis highlights that the animal advocacy movement is continuing to grow in the U.S. and Canada, with roughly 47% of the sample becoming engaged with advocacy in the last decade. The most commonly endorsed reason for becoming an animal advocate was being exposed to broadcast or print media, which is good news for those putting resources into producing broadcast and print media, especially documentaries, books, and articles. Future research could explore the impact of contemporary forms of media such as podcasts and social media—especially celebrity messaging, such as that of Joaquin Phoenix—on movement growth.
Most commonly, advocates started off advocating for farmed animals or companion animals, accounting for roughly 81% of the advocates surveyed. The same picture emerged for advocates’ current or most recent cause area, with most advocates supporting farmed animals and/or companion animals.
How someone became involved in the movement—through media, interpersonal experiences, a non-animal specific desire to help, or something else—was correlated with their current diet. Advocates who became involved because of a non-animal specific desire to help were less likely to currently identify as vegan or plant-based. It was also related to their first cause area, with advocates who became involved in the movement through media or interpersonal experiences to be more likely to advocate for farmed animals than individuals who became involved in the movement because of a general desire to help (not specific to animals). But how advocates got involved in the movement was only marginally related to their level of education and not related to how long they’ve been involved in the movement, the number of hours they invest per week, or whether or not they were compensated for their efforts.
Similarly, advocates’ first cause area—farmed animals, companion animals, or other types of animals—was related to how long they’ve been involved in the movement, with advocates for farmed animals being the most junior on average. As expected, an advocate’s first cause area was also related to diet—advocates for farmed animals were more likely to be vegan or plant-based than advocates for companion animals. But advocates’ first cause area was not related to their level of education, their hours per week, or whether or not they are compensated for their efforts.
Finally, we found there is considerable variability in advocates’ cause areas over time. Our results suggest that for a majority of advocates (between 51% and 86%), their initial area of interest is relatively stable over time, especially with respect to advocates of farmed animals—just over 85% of advocates who started out supporting farmed animals continue to do so. But our results also suggest that advocates’ areas of interest shift over time, as well, often to include farmed animals.
Some limitations should be considered. The present study used respondent-driven sampling which presented some challenges with recruitment. As such, the representativeness of the sample is uncertain given this is the first study of its kind. For more details, see the Caveats & Limitations in the main study. Another challenge, in terms of analysis, was the presence of some small groups. For example, when considering first cause area, 53.1% of the sample reported advocating for animals farmed for food or clothing, whereas only 6.2% of the sample reported advocating for animals used in research, which resulted in not all assumptions for the chi-square analyses being met: some of the expected cell counts were less than five—so these results should be interpreted with caution.