NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 27, 2006

Charity is not a virtue shared by all.  While 85 million American households give away money each year to nonprofit organizations, another 30 million do not.  When it comes to charity, we are two nations, says Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Public Affairs.

Why does Giving America behave so differently from Non-Giving America?  The answer, contrary to what you might be thinking, is not income; America's working poor give away at least as large a percentage of their incomes as the rich, and a lot more than the middle class.  The charity gap is driven not by economics but by values, says Brooks.

Nowhere is the divide in values more on display than in religion, the frontline in our so-called "culture war."  And the relationship between religion and charity is nothing short of extraordinary, says Brooks:

  • The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey indicates that Americans who weekly attend a house of worship are 25 percentage points more likely to give than people who go to church rarely or never.
  • These religious folks also give nearly four times more dollars per year than secularists, on average, and volunteer more than twice as frequently.

It is not the case that these enormous differences are due simply to religious people giving to their churches.  Religious people are more charitable with all sorts of nonreligious causes as well, says Brooks:

  • They are 10 percentage points likelier than secularists to give money to explicitly nonreligious charities like the United Way, and 25 points more likely to volunteer for secular groups such as the PTA.
  • Churchgoers were far likelier in 2001 to give to 9/11-related causes; on average, people of faith give more than 50 percent more money each year to non-church social welfare organizations than secularists do.

Source: Arthur C. Brooks, "Charitable Explanation," Wall Street Journal, November 27, 2006.

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