Acton Institute Powerblog

Religion drives charitable giving in America

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“In study after study,” says Karl Zinsmeister, “religious practice is the behavioral variable with the strongest and most consistent association with generous giving.”

In his article for Philanthropy, Zinsmeister examines a range of data to show how America’s religiosity is connected to our charitable giving. Here are a few highlights from her report:

• Among Americans who attend services weekly and pray daily, 45 percent had done volunteer work during the previous week. Among all other Americans, only 27 percent had volunteered somewhere.

• Americans with any religious affiliation made average annual charitable donations of $1,590, versus $695 for those with no religious affiliation. In addition to giving larger amounts, the religious give more often—making gifts about half again as frequently.

• Two thirds of people who worship at least twice a month give to secular causes, compared to less than half of non-attenders, and the average secular gift by a church attender is 20 percent bigger.

• As a fraction of our income, Americans donate over two and a half times as much as Britons do, more than eight times as much as the Germans, and at 12 times the rate of the Japanese. “American religiosity plays a central role in that distinctive pattern,” notes Zinsmeister.

• Religion annually contributes an estimated $1.2 trillion of socioeconomic value to the U.S. economy. That $1.2 trillion is more than the combined revenue of America’s ten biggest tech giants. It is bigger than the total economy of all but 14 entire nations.

• Members of U.S. churches and synagogues send four and a half times as much money overseas to needy people every year as the Gates Foundation does.

• Over the last couple decades, soaring interest in the poorest of the poor by evangelical Christians in particular has made overseas giving the fastest growing corner of American charity. One result: U.S. voluntary giving to the overseas poor now totals $44 billion annually—far more than the $33 billion of official aid distributed by the U.S. government.

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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