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Friday, December 10, 2010

Religion and Charity

In our chapter on civic culture, we mention the connection of religion and charity. David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam offer some additional data:

Along with jobs and 401(k)s, a major casualty of the Great Recession has been charitable giving. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, America's charities report an 11% drop in contributions in the past year alone. There's one big exception: Charitable contributions to religious groups dropped by only 0.1% from 2007 to 2009.

Americans are generous people. In 2006, as detailed in our recent book, "American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us," 80% of all Americans reported having made a charitable contribution in the previous year. But some—the religious—contributed more than others.

Of the most secular fifth of Americans, two-thirds said they gave money to charity in the previous year. That's an impressive number, but it pales next to the 94% of the most religious fifth who reported making a charitable donation.

We find the same pattern when we examine how much people give. On average, those in the most religious fifth donate $3,000 to charity annually. Those in the most secular fifth give approximately $1,000. The story is the same when we consider charitable giving as a fraction of household income: By this measure, religious Americans are four times as generous as their secular neighbors, even as they are a little less affluent than secular Americans.


To understand the connection between religiosity and charitable giving, it is useful to distinguish between the "boosting" effect and the "channeling" effect. The former refers to the increase in giving of all sorts that goes with being religious; the latter refers to whether that giving is directed toward religious or secular causes. Roughly three-quarters of charity given by highly religious Americans is indeed channeled toward religion. But religiosity provides such a boost to financial giving overall that the most religious Americans actually give more money to secular causes than do secular Americans.