Who are the Charitable Givers?

kinnon —  January 21, 2007 — Leave a comment

Margaret Wente from yesterday’s Globe (subscription required):

…the most generous people of all are probably not who you think they are. They aren’t the rich. They aren’t my well-heeled liberal neighbours in latte-land (the ones who complain about cutbacks to the arts), and they aren’t the urban cyclists who hold rallies for the homeless and vote NDP. (Or Democrat in the US)

The most generous people in North America are the small-town folks who go to church, drive pick-up trucks, are very family-oriented, have average jobs, and probably hate the gun registry. They give away more of their income — by far — than anybody else.

The charity gap is driven not by economics but by values. And those values are old-fashioned ones. In the U.S., the value that correlates most highly with giving is religious faith. “Religious people don’t give only to the church,” says Arthur C. Brooks, an economist at Syracuse University who is an expert on who gives, and how much. “They also make more gifts to secular causes.” The people who give away the most of all (3.7 per cent of their income) live in Utah.

These days, people who are religious are also far more likely to be politically conservative. They’re the red-state Bushies, or the Albertans who vote Tory blue. Mr. Brooks’s new book, Who Really Cares, proves without a doubt that while godless liberals talk the talk, churchgoing conservatives walk the walk. People in the top five Bush states give three times more of their income to charity than people in the top five Kerry states. Conservatives give away more money and volunteer more time to help the poor. They even give more blood. Liberals talk about how we must do more to help the environment and the homeless; conservatives actually help them.

These findings are a little rattling for people who think “compassionate conservatism” is a joke. They are also a little humbling for secular people (such as me) who write a cheque now and then and congratulate ourselves. And they came as a surprise to Mr. Brooks (who is that rare creature in the U.S., an independent voter). “I came into this thinking that people who say they’re compassionate, are compassionate,” he says. “I found that’s not the case.”

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

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