Charitable Giving by Religiousness and Political Leaning

My friend Lew Jan Olowoski (he usually goes by Jan, pronounced “yawn,” in case you’re curious) highlights a fascinating investigation by 20/20 on which groups of Americans give. Here are two highlights I found interesting:

  • Arthur Brooks, the author of “Who Really Cares,” says that “when you look at the data, it turns out the conservatives give about 30 percent more.” He adds, “And incidentally, conservative-headed families make slightly less money.” And he says the differences in giving goes beyond money, pointing out that conservatives are 18 percent more likely to donate blood.

I definitely understand the fact that the more people rely on the government to help the poor, the less they do it themselves. Comparing America to Europe, for example, we find the former gives much less in state-to-state aid (a fact we’re criticized for constantly), and much more in total dollars from private donations (a fact conveniently overlooked by those doing the guilt-tripping). In any case, there are a lot of things government aid can’t do: they usually don’t give to religious charities (despite these groups having the most successful programs and lowest overhead, generally), and individuals are still needed to provide critical things like blood, a fact that the study shows some people are overlooking(I say this as someone too terrified of needles to give blood, or even watch other people give blood).

I would say this, though: there tends to be a roots / branches split in how liberals and conservatives approach problems. Liberals classically attack the roots of problems, sometimes at the cost of ignoring the symptoms and those presently afflicted (like trying to create programs to eradicate poverty long-term while ignoring those presently hungry); conservatives classically address the branches, while ignoring the causes. I’m not sure how true that dichotomy is in real life, but if you’re a “community organizer” looking to create long-term social change instead of giving blood or money, this study under-represents you.

  • Finally, the single biggest predictor of whether someone will be charitable is their religious participation. Religious people are more likely to give to charity, and when they give, they give more money: four times as much.

I wasn’t surprised that religious people give more, but I wasn’t prepared for the gap to be quite that big. Jan, for his part, writes thoughtfully on the role of religion as a motivator for charity, and why that’s something the non-religious should be pleased with. In the meantime, he gets lots of anti-liberal potshots in, but what do you expect from someone who decides (in 2009, no less) to name their blog in honor of George W. Bush?

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