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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Why the Rich Don't Give to Charity

The study described in this article by Ken Stern in The Atlantic provides some eye-opening insights about the differences in altruism among wealthy people,  the poor, and the middle class in the United States. As the article's subhead says:
The wealthiest Americans donate 1.3 percent of their income; the poorest, 3.2 percent. What's up with that?
I think one finding in particular is especially significant to people who communicate about the social needs in our country and ways to deal with them.

The article highlights that finding:
Last year, not one of the top 50 individual charitable gifts went to a social-service organization or to a charity that principally serves the poor and the dispossessed.
Referring to researcher Paul Piff, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, Stern writes:
Notably, though, when both groups were exposed to a sympathy-eliciting video on child poverty, the compassion of the wealthier group began to rise, and the groups’ willingness to help others became almost identical.
If Piff’s research suggests that exposure to need drives generous behavior, could it be that the isolation of wealthy Americans from those in need is a cause of their relative stinginess?
Patrick Rooney, the associate dean at the Indiana University School of Philanthropy, told me that greater exposure to and identification with the challenges of meeting basic needs may create “higher empathy” among lower-income donors.
Stern continues by describing the a recent study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Researchers analyzed the giving habits across U.S. ZIP codes:
Consistent with previous studies, they found that less affluent ZIP codes gave relatively more. ... But the researchers also found something else: differences in behavior among wealthy households, depending on the type of neighborhood they lived in. Wealthy people who lived in homogeneously affluent areas—areas where more than 40 percent of households earned at least $200,000 a year—were less generous than comparably wealthy people who lived in more socioeconomically diverse surroundings.
Either Stern or the study summarized that finding in this way:
It seems that insulation from people in need may dampen the charitable impulse.
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Ken Stern’s book, With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give, was published in February.

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