NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: Have you told a friend about Gayle Campbell’s fascinating series about the ways Americans are “doing good”—or, rather, the ways we think we’re doing good? It’s easy to share these columns with the social media icons on this page. Here is her fourth of five parts …
Yesterday, we learned that Americans generally donate around 2% of their discretionary income to charity. The number is a far cry from the 10% often encouraged by charities and religious organizations.
We could point to plenty of reasons for the discrepancy—tight finances and a tough economy would likely top the list. But that doesn’t seem to stop low-income households in the U.S. from giving.
Did you know that low-income households tend to donate a much larger share of their discretionary income than the wealthy?
In 2011, Americans in the top 20% income bracket contributed 1.3 percent of their income to charity, while Americans in the bottom 20% donated 3.2 percent of their income. The Atlantic Magazine calls this “one of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America.”
Some experts have speculated that the wealthy are simply less generous, and as wealth increases, compassion, altruism and ethical behavior decrease. What’s more—a study at The Chronicle of Philanthropy found that wealthy individuals who live in affluent areas are less likely to give than those who live in more socioeconomically diverse areas.
Simply put: When the rich don’t see the poor, their inclination to give decreases.
Research by social psychologist Paul Piff, over the last several years, generally supports this argument. Want to hear from Piff? Here’s a 16-minute TED talk by Piff titled “Does Money Make You Mean?”
The percentage of income donated isn’t the only major difference in how the rich and poor are giving. The wealthy tend to direct their donations not to the needs of the poor, but to other causes including cultural institutions or universities (often alma maters.) The poor, on the other hand, tend to give to religious organizations and social-service charities.
What do you think? We’d love to hear your experiences!
Are you surprised to hear to hear those with the least are giving the most?
Does increased wealth often lead to decreased compassion?
Why aren’t the rich giving to charities that primarily serve the poor?