Middle Class, Religious Households More Generous Than the Wealthy

Middle-class Americans give a much bigger share of their discretionary income to charitable causes than the rich, while residents in so-called red states tend to be more generous than those in blue states, a new study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy finds.

Based on Internal Revenue Service data, the study examined giving patterns by state, city, and ZIP code and found, among other things, that households making between $50,000 and $75,000 gave, on average, 7.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity in 2008, compared with an average of 4.2 percent among households making at least $100,000. What's more, even within the same metropolitan area, lower- and middle-income communities were more generous than wealthier communities. In ZIP codes where more than 40 percent of households earned at least $200,000, for example, wealthy residents gave an average of 2.8 percent of discretionary income to charity, compared with an average 4.2 percent among all itemizers earning $200,000 or more.

Not surprisingly, the study found that regions of the country that are deeply religious tend to be more generous than those in which religion is considered less important. For example, two of the nine most generous states, Utah and Idaho, have large Mormon populations — Mormons have a tradition of tithing at least 10 percent of their income to the church — while the other seven most generous states are all in the Bible Belt region. When religious giving is excluded from the analysis, New York jumps in the rankings from eighteenth to second most generous, while Pennsylvania climbs from fortieth to fourth.

The report also found that state policies designed to promote giving — which thirteen states now have on the books — make a difference. Bruce Katz, vice president of the Brookings Institution, told the Chronicle that local governments should be thinking hard about how to encourage giving. "[W]e don't have the welfare programs that we have had in the past," said Katz. "The need for individual giving is greater than it has been in modern memory."

To view interactive maps of giving by state, city, and ZIP code, visit the Chronicle of Philanthropy Web site.
Gipple, Emily. Gose, Ben. “America's Generosity Divide.” Chronicle of Philanthropy 8/19/12.