Religion has big impact on how America gives

If you ever wondered whether religion makes a big impact on American generosity, wonder no more. It does.

Sister Mary Maloney, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor, chats with a guest in the cafeteria of a nonprofit charitable organization administered by her order in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2010. The charity serves hot meals to the poor, needy and homeless and provides transitional housing for young mothers. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

According to a new study released in the Aug. 23 issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “regions of the country that are deeply religious are more generous than those that are not,” reports Ben Gose in an exclusive study, “How America Gives.”

“Two of the top nine states — Utah and Idaho — have high numbers of Mormon residents, who have a tradition of tithing at least 10 percent of their income to the church. The remaining states in the top nine are all in the Bible Belt.”

The top 10 states in terms of giving were, in order, Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Idaho, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and  Maryland.

Of America’s 50 largest cities, Salt Lake City took the No. 1 spot with citizens there giving an average of 9 percent of their household income to charity. Rounding out the top 10 are Memphis, Tenn.; Birmingham, Ala.; Nashville, Tenn.; Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Oklahoma City; Washington; Dallas-Fort Worth; and Jacksonville, Fla.

Of U.S. regions, the South gives a greater percentage of its household income to charity, 5.2 percent on average. The West follows with 4.5 percent. Midwesterners give on an average of 4.3 percent, and Northeasterners give the least, 4 percent of average income. But when faith comes out of the equation, the trends flip. “People in the Northeast provide 1.4 percent of their discretionary income to secular charities, compared to those in the South, who give 0.9 percent,” the report said.

Gose also reported some other surprising findings of the study:

The rich aren’t the most generous. “People who make $50,000 to $75,000 give an average of 7.6 percent of the their discretionary income to charity, compared with an average of 4.2 percent for people who make $100,000 or more.”

It matters were you live. “Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy people give a smaller share of their income to charity than wealthy people who live economically diverse neighborhoods.”

Tax incentives make a difference. “State policies that promote giving can make a significant difference and in some cases are influencing the rankings. In Arizona, charities are reaping more than $100-million annually from a series of tax credits adopted in recent years.

To see how your state ranks,and even your city of county, the report has a great interactive map. It also profiles giving and its challenges and victories in four cities: Phoenix, ranked No. 22; Minneapolis-St. Paul, ranked No. 30; Providence, R.I., ranked at the bottom at No. 50; and Washington, No. 8.

You can also find how the data was gathered and analyzed.

6 Responses

  1. It has been known for quite some time now that charitable giving has its home in areas of the country that are primarily conservative in their religious, cultural and political values.
    Of course! The Gospel does not speak of “the state” helping the poor; it speaks of individuals doing this. Those who favor expanding government see taking care of everyone’s needs is the task of the state–i.e., the federal government. Many among the clergy support this notion as well, bringing one to ask whether they actually understand the Message. The state cannot be charitable, only individuals can be.
    Also to be noted, it is the same federal government under the present political party in power that would force the Church to violate its own moral principles, the political party that still numbers a majority of Catholics among its supporters.
    When will we learn?

  2. Excellent article

  3. It would be interesting to chat how much of the charitable giving is directly to churches among all classes. It would also be good to see how much of the charitable giving of the more prosperous goes to the really poor or goes to charities that are of benefit to their class (e.g., prestigious universities, symphonies, art galleries and museums, etc.). The question I have about charitable giving is how much is really for meeting the needs of the poor or helping them directly to improve their standards of living (e.g., through CCHD programs).

  4. John, These are interesting questions. I don’t know that the Chronicle has drilled down into the data this far or even asked these questions. I suspect that for people who religion affects their giving, they are disposed to direct a portion of their giving to human need and relief. For example, Catholic Charities/Caritas is a big recipient. But your question about class giving is fascinating.

    Does anyone have any data or experience about this?

  5. More than ten years ago Fr. Ken Himes, OFM, gave a talk on the topic of charitable giving which appeared in ORIGINS. My reflections owe a lot to that article. Without access to the original (I’m in Honduras) I cannot give a specific reference.

  6. Totally agree with you Duane. For someone to take my money given to the government to any PERSON other than a government employee is extortion!

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