Giving the Gift of Life: Half of Americans Say They're Registered Organ Donors

Nearly one quarter of adults say they're not but would consider it; two in ten wouldn't consider

Oct 20, 2015, 05:05 ET from The Harris Poll

NEW YORK, Oct. 20, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over 120,000 people are currently on the waiting list to receive a lifesaving organ transplant. Just one organ donor can save up to eight lives. However, with a new name joining this list every 10 minutes and 22 people dying each day while waiting, the gap between supply and demand continues to grow as donation rates stagnate.

According to a recent Harris Poll, just over half of American adults (51%) say they are currently registered organ donors. There remains sufficient room to increase this number, however. While a total of 44% of Americans say they aren't registered donors, 23% state they'd consider becoming one.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,212 U.S. adults surveyed online between August 12 and 17, 2015. Full results of this study, including data tables, can be found here.

The registered

Organ donors identify two key reasons why they chose to register: it's comforting to know their organs will serve a purpose after they die (69%) and they want to help someone in need (60%).

  • Millennials and Gen Xers are particularly likely to say they registered because they want to help someone in need (69% & 63% vs. 52% Baby Boomers & 47% Matures).
  • The same is true for college grads compared to all other education levels (71% vs. 54% post grad, 58% some college, & 57% high school or less).

Another 15% indicate it's because they know someone who has benefited from a donation, and 7% say they registered because they know someone currently on the waiting list.

Among registered donors, some key demographic differences exist. Those most likely to say they have registered include:

  • Liberals, who are more likely than both conservatives and moderates (58% vs. 49% & 48%) to have done so,
  • Midwesterners (59% vs. 46% East, 50% South & 51% West), and
  • Those with an education level beyond high school (58% post grad, 53% college grad & 57% some college vs. 44% high school or less).

The willing

When looking to increase registered donors, the obvious opportunity exists among the 23% of Americans who are non-registered donors, but who indicate they'd be willing to consider it. Within this subgroup, the most common reasons they haven't registered include: they don't like to think about what will happen when they die (21%), they're not in good enough health (19%), and they don't know how to register (16%). Increased education on the benefits and simplicity of organ donor registration may be enough to sway a segment of these already willing individuals.

The largest opportunity may exist among young adults (ages 18-24). While they are the most likely to say they're not registered (55%), they are also the most likely age group to consider registering (35%).

The wary

Among the 21% of Americans not currently open to donating, the top reasons for not registering include the perception that they're not in good enough health (26%), discomfort with their organs being used after death (26%), and a desire to avoid thinking about what happens when they die (23%). Less common but still notable reasons are concerns that their family could not afford the additional medical costs associated with organ donation (10%) and that perception that their family knowing their wishes means they don't need to register as a donor (9%).

In total among the unregistered (including both the willing and unwilling), some key demographic differences exist in their reasoning:

  • Millennials are more likely than the older cohorts to say they don't like to think about what happens when they die (36% vs. 19% Gen Xers, 16% Baby Boomers & 11% Matures) and that they don't know how to register (18% vs. 5%, 4% & 6%).
  • Those with a high school education or less are especially likely to say their family couldn't afford any additional costs associated with donation (16% vs. 8% some college, 3% college grad, & 5% post grad).

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This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between August 12 and 17, 2015 among 2,212 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #65, October 20, 2015 
By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. For more information, or to see other recent polls, please visit our new website,

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SOURCE The Harris Poll