Who Gives? New Study Reveals That It's Not Your Income Level That Determines How Charitable You Are

Money doesn’t make people evil, but a lack of every day exposure to poverty can render some oblivious.
People who are exposed to poverty in their daily lives tend to be more charitable. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Sep 2, 2012· 1 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

According to a new study from the Chronicle of Philanthropy, people with high incomes who live in economically diverse neighborhoods are more likely to give to charity than those with equally high incomes who live in insulated areas.

In fact, the study found that it's not income level at all that determines one's tendency towards charity; it's how often people are exposed to the sight of others who are struggling. NPR reports that regular exposure to others’ poverty prompted both middle-class and wealthy income earners to donate more of their discretionary income.

According to NPR, for one economically diverse neighborhood in Washington D.C., this has proven to be especially true. Southeast Washington is among the city’s poorest neighborhoods and is home to charities such as Bread for the City. Middle-to-high income earners who live close by donate on average more than 19 percent of their discretionary income to charities every year. That's about 15 percent more than the average American living in an economically sheltered neighborhood.

Bread for the City's development director, Kristin Valentine, tells NPR she's not surprised at all. Some of her own clients donate when they can, even if it's just a few dollars. "They see everyday, probably more need than the average person."

Paul Piff, a social psychologist who studies wealth, explains, “It’s not that rich people aren’t generous. They’re often just isolated. They don’t see a lot of poor people in their daily lives.”

“Simply reminding wealthy people of the diversity of needs that are out there is going to go a long way toward restoring the empathy or compassion deficit that we otherwise see.”

Do you find it true in your own life that when you’re exposed to others’ struggles, you’re more likely to be charitable?