How generous are Americans? Where does Massachusetts rank when it comes to sharing the wealth?
But the interesting part of this survey is the connection it makes with religiosity. It's the “least religious” states that are the stingiest, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which conducted the study.
The data, by the way, came in part from analyzing IRS tax return records, specifically, itemized deductions, which gave a brief picture of where people were spending their discretionary income.
As anyone knows, however, tax figures are not the only measure of giving. Many people do not itemize—is their giving being left out of this study? What about the ordinary taxpayer who doesn't itemize, yet gives very generously to his or her church? That could be a potential flaw in this study.
Self-sufficient New Englanders
One reason being offered for New England's poor showing is the “ideal of self-sufficiency” that New Englanders pride themselves on. In other words, charity begins at home; you take care of yourself before you tend to others.
In an online article published by the Lebanon Daily News in Pennsylvania, a Boston college professor was quoted as saying it's not right to link generosity with religious culture. According to Alan Wolfe, a political science professor at Boston College, people in so-called less religious states give in a totally different way, such as being committed to paying higher taxes so the government can distribute social services and other benefits more widely—based purely on need, rather than religious affiliation.
“I think people here believe that when they pay their taxes, they're being altruistic,” said Wolfe.
One of the other interesting results of this study: people who earn between $50,000 and $75,000 annually give a higher percentage of their income to charity than those making $100,000 or more. So the more affluent are also less charitable, according to this data.
The bottom line
When churches go after wealthier local residents, hoping to land them as new congregation members, are they really getting all they hoped for?—if they're not as generous as you think, time may be better spent looking to minister to the needs of middle class community members, instead.