Why the poor are more charitable than the rich

America's lowest-income earners give away a higher percentage of their pay because of tax and social discrepancies.

By Jason Notte Mar 22, 2013 2:36PM
Image: Money (Comstock Images/Jupiterimages)One group of Americans gives 1.3% of its income to charity. Another gives 3.2%. Guess who's rich and who's poor.

The Atlantic asserts that, despite all the charitable gifts and building naming on behalf of Carl Icahn, Phil Knight, Paul Allen, Mort Zuckerman and other members of the modern American aristocracy, rich folks aren't nearly as generous to charities as their poor counterparts. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans -- those with earnings in the top 20% -- gave an average 1.3% of their income to charity.

On the other side of the coin, those with earnings in the bottom 20% donated 3.2% of their income. It's not that either is particularly more generous than the other. It's just that the company each keeps has a strong effect on how much each donates and to whom.

The richest Americans, for example, have their charity numbers dragged down a bit by the charitable tax deduction that they tend to itemize on their return more frequently than poorer Americans. The wealthy also tend to give a bit differently, preferring to funnel their charitable donations to colleges and universities, arts organizations and museums. Of the 50 largest individual gifts to public charities in 2012, 34 went to educational institutions including Harvard, Columbia, and Berkeley. Museums and arts organizations such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art received nine such gifts, with the remainder going to medical facilities charities like the Central Park Conservancy.

Not one went to a social-service organization or a group that works with the poor. Those poor, meanwhile, tend to give almost exclusively to religious and social service organizations. Patrick Rooney, the associate dean at the Indiana University School of Philanthropy, told The Atlantic that increased exposure to poverty creates “higher empathy” among lower-income donors. Meanwhile, Paul Piff, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, published research that drew a link between wealth and unethical behavior.

“While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything,” Piff told New York magazine, “the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people.”

The simple answer is that each group goes with what it knows. That neither really knows the other is a far more telling, if not troubling, economic and social indicator.

More on moneyNOW

Mar 22, 2013 3:50PM

Why am I not surprised??? I was out of work between professional careers for 18 months. After I walked a mile in another man's moccassins (sp?), my whole outlook on life changed! I went Blue from life long Red, I now put 5, 10, 20 in the poor box whenever I pass it, AND I give thanks for what I have in life and have stopped worrying about what the 5% who cheat the "system" get!!! I recently sat in an airplane hanger in Texas on leather furniture sipping good bourbon and listened to a bunch of rich white guys bitch about what the illegals were getting away with! BTW, we were sitting beside a private plane worth at least $2M. Made me want to puke!!!


Give Thanks for what you have achieved, help the poor and unfortunate, and give a damn!!! You'll feel a lot better for it! And remember, no matter how bad you think you have it, someone always has it worse!!!


Self-actualization is all about getting a life and letting go!!! No pockets in a shroud!  ;^)

Mar 22, 2013 5:06PM
My wife is a CPA, and has done taxes for years for people in all income brackets.  From her extensive experience, the group that gives the LEAST BY FAR to charities that truly help people is the wealthy.  Even people earning in the high six figures or more want a pat on the back for giving $100 to a recognized charity.  Though there obviously are exceptions, and some weathy people actually legitimately earned their wealth and are generous with it, the large majority of them remain rich because their favorite "charity" is themselves or organizations who cater to the wealthy.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being rich, but when you have so much money that you couldn't spend it in a hundred lifetimes, yet you refuse to help ANYONE who is truly in need, there IS something wrong with YOU.
Mar 22, 2013 4:34PM

When I was much younger, I had a job delivering pizzas.  The people who lived in the nice big houses never tipped well at all.  However, when I delivered to the run down side of town, small houses that were practically falling apart, I always got a better tip than from the upper middle class areas.


This article does not surprise me one bit.

Mar 22, 2013 4:26PM
" The wealthy also tend to give a bit differently, preferring to funnel their charitable donations to colleges and universities"

That is NOT "giving"... that is greasing the wheels so that little Timmy gets in.
Mar 22, 2013 4:48PM

So the rich give to Harvard, museums, and the arts and the middle class and poor people tend to give to charities that help people. Hmm, why do these facts not surprise me at all.

It may be the middle class and the poor know what it's like to struggle in life...... Most of the rich are clueless for the most part, not all but most. 

Mar 22, 2013 4:13PM

IF that is true it is very sad. I have tithed almost my whole adult life per my spiritual beliefs and all of my tithing goes to the poor for needed surgeries, Operation Smile, a wonderful operation that changes lives. Other giving over and above often goes to organizations that provide help to the less fortunate of us.


I have learned through life that you cannot out give God, the tenfold rule has always applied and the more I give the more I seem to have. If there are rich or poor reading this, I strongly suggest you try it. It feels good and I know my government is a poor handler of money, so yes I do itemize and take the deductions. But this way I choose to help those less fortunate and not those who just know how to play the government system. .   

Mar 22, 2013 5:00PM
It takes one to know one, and low income folks know how hard it is to make ends meet, put food on the table, or get a decent job.  Thus, they are more empathetic to those in need.  The rich are ignorant, saying things like, "Why don't they get off their (lazy) asses and go get a job if they don't have enough money to survive."  Charity is more often a hand up than a hand out.
Mar 22, 2013 6:21PM

I got the giving bug in two small ways, and of course, having an organized mind, I had to systemize it. I started at $10 a month, adding $1 every year to that. The first snail mail to arrive asking for money, in a given month, that seems worthy enough, gets the $12.


The second way is the most fun. I watch closely among people I meet, and even some I've met only on-line, and when I get an indication that someone is destitute, their name goes on a list. Then, once a quarter, I go to the dollar store and fill a cart. This has never cost me more then a hundred dollars - usually runs about $60 - and I can fill a pretty big box.


I send it out anonymously because I don't want anyone tracking me down. But it gives me a great feeling to imagine a poor family opening a box to find oodles of goodies, from candy to household tools.


Oh, almost forgot a third thing I do, and that is picking up the tab of strangers at the little greasey spoon where I Iunch. This started because one day when I was sitting in a booth adjacent to a young mother with a baby and her mother, I heard the mom tell the daughter, "No, that's too expensive." If something was too expensive at that place, you could bet they had little money. I got the waitress, who now calls me her partner in crime, to let me pay for their meal anonymous. It was worth the feeling I got imagining how they would feel when they found out their tab was paid. Woth every penny.


I had been doing this, hit and miss, for a couple of years when something happened that made me misty-eyed. When I went into the restaurant, the waitress handed me an envelope. On the outside it said, "For the anonymous, giving guy." Inside was a $10 gift certificate for the restaurant. I got quite emotional that someone out there was thinking like that.


It's so easy to give, and you have to do it to discover that it is worth every penny. It does something good for YOU, when you give.

Mar 22, 2013 3:47PM
SURPRISE! Almost comical if it wasn't so sad...but they need more tax brakes .GREED! and self centered. There are a few though Buffet, Gates
Mar 22, 2013 4:16PM
Mar 22, 2013 5:18PM
I remember in high school our marching band was always low on funds, so every year we went around asking for donations of cans/bottles or money. We realized that for the most part, people with middle-upper class homes donated less and were more rude than those in lower class homes. You gain so much more sympathy from those who lack funds themselves.
Mar 22, 2013 4:21PM
the poor or middle class know what its like to not have much, so we do what we can to help the next guy. its time we standup and stop all this ****.  WE THE PEOPLE NEED TO DO SOMETHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Mar 22, 2013 5:26PM
I like how they forgot to mention the rich that establish charities then make millions of dollars a year in appearance fees from their "charities" that exceeds the amount that they donated. The charity game is another way the rich make money. Did anyone see that Lance Armstrong was making 8 mil a year in appearance fees from the Livestrong foundation before he was caught doping. Pretty sure he wasn't contributing anything near 8 mil a year to the charity
Mar 22, 2013 5:49PM
poor people get poorer while the rich get richer ! the rich don't give a F about the poor.
Mar 22, 2013 4:08PM

Y'all need to read between the lines: "The richest Americans, for example, have their charity numbers dragged down a bit by the charitable tax deduction that they tend to itemize on their return more frequently than poorer Americans."


Note, the article doesn't say how much their percentage was "dragged down".



Mar 22, 2013 5:23PM
The poor understand the poor and the heartaches and headaches they face.  So, even the poor give when they can.  The rich don't  understand the poor.  They don't feel the heartaches and the headaches of the poor so the can't relate to the misery.  So, they are less inclined to give.  They think the poor are poor only because of something they (the poor) did or did not do.  They don't understand misfortune.  Also, the rich are often rich because they are also stingy.  The poor have little to be stingy over.  I have worked with poor people and with wealthy people. I can tell you I had many times rather be with and work with poor people.  I have taught children from poor families and from weathy families.  The children from the poor families are usually much better children.  I love the poor!!!!!!!
Mar 22, 2013 8:19PM
This article is really onesided and dumb. sure some "rich people" are jerks but the rich guy I work for gave me a chance at a better life by paying me a fair days pay for a fair days worth of work. I can now give when I can, as offten as I can and how much I can.
Mar 23, 2013 10:52AM
Rich politicians are particularly lacking i.e. Biden, Gore, and Clinton before becoming President.
The amounts given by Biden and Gore are particularly sad.  If Catholics supported him like he supports the church he would not have been on the public dole for a lifetime!
The press never questions them but made an issue of Romney who has given more in one year than Biden,

Mar 24, 2013 3:05AM
I grew up very poor.  I remember not having 70 cents for bus fare and having to walk about 7 miles to work and then back home though a really bad neighorhood.  I remember our home being so cold we'd wear our winter coats over our bathrobes to keep warm and going hungry.  I remember a dear friend telling me once, most poor people have five things in common that keeps them poor.  1.  They smoke cigerettes, 2.  They drink beer, 3.  They use drugs.  4.  They don't manage their money effectively.  5.  When in school, they don't make the most of the opportunity.  I never forgot this and have done my best to not make these mistakes.  I don't smoke or drink any type of alcohol, use drugs and I am very careful with my money.  I also watched over my son like a hawk and made sure he understand the importance of school. 
Mar 22, 2013 8:50PM
I've seen giving as more a function of the person's belief system rather than the size of their bank account.  I've prepared thousands of tax returns for clients over the years and by and large the wealthier clients give more as a percentage of their income and in raw dollar amounts.  Maybe its just by client mix, but I don't think so.  Of those big givers, the vast majority gave to their church.  Especially the ones giving 10% of their income away.
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