I have a special interest in charitable giving because the food on my table is provided by generous givers. When I saw that Arthur Brooks had written a book on who gives in our society I obviously wanted to read it. When it arrived I was a bit surprised to find out that it was, in fact, a comparison on liberal versus conservative giving.
Missions mostly happens when people are generous givers. Oh sure, there are some models that are based on business structures but most of these are incubated or staffed by workers who have learned language and culture as support-based missionaries. So, let’s see what Brooks says about who in our society are charitable donors.
Brooks notes that there are four lifestyle and worldview differences between givers and non-givers. These are really somewhat intuitive, although they will make those with left leaning political views mad. The factors are:
He notes on pages 31 and 32 that both the citizens of San Francisco and South Dakota give roughly the same amount each year to charities, about $1,300. The big difference is that San Franciscans make about 78% more annually than their counterpart in South Dakota. The average South Dakotan gives away 75% more of their income than the average San Franciscan. He draws a correlation to religious practice. 50% of South Dakotans attend weekly church services while only 14% of San Franciscans are weekly worshippers. 49% of San Fran’s residents never attend church, while only 10% of the South Dakotans are church teetotalers. This is just one of many data points given in the book (yes, yes, he does look at the cost of living index and all sorts of possible counter-arguments – you’ll have to read it yourself for the whole scoop).
2. Political Viewpoints Regarding Income Distribution
I quote from page 56 in which Brooks discussed a survey: “People in favor of government income redistribution give less to charity, even when survey questions are framed in such a way that they might elicit a response favorable to redistribution.” When people think that the government should be in the business of Robin Hood politics, they give less. Furthermore, argues Brooks, liberal politics directly correlates to less charitable giving. He quotes Ralph Nader as stating, “A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity” (p. 63). Liberal writers have made the case that charitable giving strengthens class distinctions (p. 65).
3. Income Level and Source of Income
While those who are the richest in our society give the most in total dollars, they give a smaller percentage of their income. The lower the overall household income is, the higher the percentage given. But, there is a catch to this one. Low income household are givers if they earn their income. If they are living on welfare, they give less. In fact, low income household living on earned income give 6 times more than their welfare recipient neighbors (p. 82). Welfare depresses giving. Brooks points out that “A further explanation for why political conservatives in America score higher on measures of giving than political liberals is that the unusually charitable working poor are disproportionately politically conservative, but the relatively uncharitable nonworking poor are much more liberal” (p. 92-93).
4. Family Life
Larger households give more. Parents give more than non-parents. This one will be a bit controversial for some, but the author makes the case that there are “Few acts of voluntary beneficence are clear than the unconditional care and love of a child” (p. 99). People on the political right are more likely to exhibit a pro-family lifestyle (p. 109) which is one more indicate of why Brooks says that conservatives are better givers.
The author devotes a chapter to national giving. He notes that charitable giving by American far outweighed charitable giving by Europeans. Europeans response was to give governmentally. He ties European non-charity to their secular worldview.
There is a chapter which argues that giving makes one happier and wealthier. He looks at social theory, religion, and then tries to pull in various data points to suggest that giving and wealth accumulation are correlated.
The final chapter lays out some strategies for increasing charitable giving.