Who’s the Most Generous of All? The Findings May Surprise You

A new study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy finds wide disparities in generosity—by states, metropolitan areas and household wealth

Middle-class households are more charitably inclined than rich ones, and “red” states are more generous than “blue” states, according to a new study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

How America Gives” examines giving data by ZIP code and by income level in every city and town in the U.S. It finds wide disparities in generosity—by states, metropolitan areas and household wealth.

In compiling the study, Chronicle researchers looked at the most recent available IRS record of taxpayers who earned $50,000 or more in 2008 and itemized their deductions.

These donors gave a median of 4.7% of their discretionary income to charitable causes, nearly two-thirds of the $214 billion donated by all individuals in 2008, The Chronicle said.

Included with the study are a ranking of the 50 states and giving by metropolitan areas. In addition, an interactive tool enables searches of charitable giving down to the neighborhood level.

Among the study’s key findings:

  • Middle-class Americans—households that earn $50,000 to $75,000—give an average of 7.6% of their discretionary income to charity, compared with an average of 4.2% for people who make $100,000 or more.
  • Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy people give a smaller share of their incomes to charity than those who live in more economically diverse communities.
  • The eight states where residents gave the highest share of income to charity voted for John McCain in 2008. The seven lowest ranking states supported Barack Obama.
  • State policies that promote giving can make a big difference. Some 13 states now offer special tax benefits to charity donors.

The study found that religion strongly influences giving patterns. Two of the nine most generous states—Utah and Idaho—have high numbers of Mormon residents, who have a tradition of tithing to the church. The remaining states in the top nine are all in the Bible Belt.

Take religion out of the equation and count only secular gifts, however, and the geography of giving shifts. New York, for example, jumps to No. 2 from No. 18.

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