Think the Rich Are Charitable? Think Again

When you think of charity, you probably think of rich benefactors stepping in to aid a noble cause. Yet it turns out that the rich aren’t nearly generous as the poor. In fact, America’s poorest people donate to charitable organizations at more than twice the rate of America’s richest citizens.

According to new research, the richest 20% only donated 1.3% of its income to charity, while the poorest 20% gave 3.2%. Once you take into account that the wealthiest are able to write-off a lot of these donations on their annual taxes, while the poorest do not even itemize such things, the discrepancy is that much more glaring.

The Atlantic summarized this study, as well as a few others that reached similar conclusions. The publication also cited a study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which examined charitable donations by zip code. The research found that residents of poverty-stricken areas were more generous than those in the nation’s most affluent neighborhoods.

The differences between rich and poor charitable giving don’t stop at the percentages: the recipients of each respective group are also notable. While the poor generally donate to organizations that provide social services and religious institutions, the wealthiest individuals’ money is gifted to museums, colleges, and the arts. In other words, affluent people prefer to give money to elite, cultural places that they can benefit from rather than allocating it to people who are in dire need of assistance like food banks and homeless shelters.

Dr. Paul Piff, a UC Berkeley psychologist, has conducted research on how money affects one’s morality. It appears that rich people have more of a drive to hoard their wealth, while poorer people tend to understand the importance of sharing. He concludes, “The rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people… more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.” Tell us how you really feel, Piff!

Of course, the takeaway from this data shouldn’t be that the rich are assholes. Not merely that, anyway. It should serve as a reason to question the 1%’s rhetoric that the free market will take care of society. It dispels the notion that kind-hearted rich people take it upon themselves to help the less fortunate and could do even more if not burdened by taxes.

Whereas many countries tax the rich to ensure funding for services for the poor, the United States operates under a system that supposes that the rich will address the poor’s needs more adequately than the government can. Accordingly, the tax code even incentivizes donations by providing financial breaks to wealthy benefactors. Yet still, the rich give way less than those with the least and favor charitable pet projects like giving money to their alma maters to have buildings named after themselves.

As Congress continues to push for austerity – slashing both social programs and the taxes on the nation’s top earners – it’s time we realize that most members of the 1%, the heralded philanthropists and job creators, are not actually planning to come to our rescue.


Related Stories:

Are Our Gifts to Charity Good Aid or Just a Band-Aid?

5 Things You Might Not Know about Giving to Charity

You’ve Got Time to Save the World



Richard T.
Richard T4 years ago


Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago

How do you think they got rich in the first place, by generosity and empathy???? Hahahaha...

Steven Brewer
Steven Brewer4 years ago

My apologies to anyone offended by my posts (except Geeyackmeoff) but I hate to see these idiots come in here thinking they are the educated elites sneering down their noses at all us uneducated posters, especially when the try to push the lies the right has been using for the last three decades about them being the "job creators" and that there are 47% of the American people who pay no taxes but are living off the government teat while trying to obfuscate the fact that they are usually paying no taxes while suckling the government teats for the corporate welfare, (which costs the taxpayers more than twice what individual government assistance costs) they now fight tooth and nail to keep.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown4 years ago

Steven B. - Already sent you a green star, but grab another handful out of petty cash, my friend!

Steven Brewer
Steven Brewer4 years ago

Holly L
Most selfish rich are rich for either of 2 reasons, 1) they inherited the money or 2) they run the Wal-Mart scam on the taxpayers where they hire only part-time, minimum-wage employees so the government has to come in and give their employees assistance for necessities of life, Then they get their trolls like Geeyackmeoff to bitch about the 47% of Americans who do not pay taxes but get government assistance (The Americans who pay no income tax but neecd government assistance to live on are made up of the following: 50% are the employees of these cretins who run the Wal-Mart scam, 25% are the Seniors and Disabled who get eanred benefits from SS and SSD which is not enough to live on but what these cretins want to cut so they can keep getting their corporate welfare, about 12% and growing are the military fighting in combat zones who are exempt from federal tax and the heroes returning from those wars who can't find jobs or who are wounded and cannot work but have to wait up to 3 years for benefits they earned with their blood and most of the remaining are people who make more than minimum-wage but still not enough to have to pay taxes on.) These are the people Romney and his boot licking lackey's like Geeyackmeoff put down when they talk about that mythical 47% of Americans...

Steven Brewer
Steven Brewer4 years ago


!-10)You are an idiot.
That household earning $12,000 probably has expenses close to or exceeding what they are earning so whatever they give is taking away a lot more disposable income than a household making $250,000 whose expenses are probably half of what their income is so their disposable income is not really affected by the paltry sum of $3,250. Of course you are probably like every other brown-noser for the rich who does not know what it is like living on $12,000. Don't be such a dorkus you dorkus...

11) you know what they say about your assumption dorkus... it makes an ass out of you but not me... "The educated elite believe that no matter how much money you give to charity, it is not possible to save everybody." Yeah yeah the "educated elite" like Romney believe 47% of Americans are too lazy to take care of themselves and you are sounding like one of those educated elites that keep that lie going. I ain't calling nobody assholes for whatever they give money for, just the people who try to justify the selfishness of those who have more than they can ever use...

Steven Brewer
Steven Brewer4 years ago

Selfishness (cont'd)
...the people who support them are supporters of those who do the work of the anti-Christ and thus cannot themselves be Christians. Jesus did not throw the poor from the temple but threw the money-changers and bird-sellers from the temple to make room for the poor. The Teapublicans push the poor down even further and out of sight to make more available for the modern day money-changers bird-sellers.

Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Jesus will not recognize these false Christians who only claim to do his work because he will recognize them as the minions of the anti-Christ who do anti-Christian work or support those who do that work.

Steven Brewer
Steven Brewer4 years ago

When you have half of our politicians pushing the meme that "selfishness is a virtue" so they can rtid themselves out of any guilt of giving to the ones who have the most so they can get there cut, the disparity of charitable giving should not be surprising. When you have 1 or 2% of America's population believing that meme of "selfishness is a virtue"and believing the words of a meth addict whose only god she believed in was herself, then the disparity of charitable giving should not be surprising. Ayn Rand was a sycophant who knew what words to use to stroke3 the egos of the poor little rich boys who got their asses spanked after they ruined our economy leading up to the Great Depression. The 20s so no charitable giving by those who hoarded money as if they could take it with them when they die. The events right now are mirroring those 20s that only roared for the rich...

When you deny aid and comfort to those who need it do not try to call yourselves Christians, especially when you follow and do the work of those who now say "selfishness is a virtue". Jesus taught the virtue of altruism, that one should have unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness. If Jesus taught altruism or selflessness which is the opposite of selfishness then those who govern by the meme that "selfishness is a virtue" are governing by anti-Christian methods and the people who support them are supporters of those who do the work of the anti-Christ and thus cannot themselves be Chris

Carol D.
Past Member 4 years ago

With a lot of the rich it becomes a sickness with them and then they dont want to spend any The poor people i know give more and someone from a charity who rang me one day said most of the people that gave were the poor and pensioners You only get rich by hanging on to your money

Geoff W.
Geoff W.4 years ago

A couple of erroneous assumptions strike me here:
1) comparing % is the wrong way to go: 3.2% of 12,000/year income is $384
1.3% of 250,000 is $3250. Who is giving more? How much cash a charity receives is what counts, not what % of your income it is
2) re: the rhetoric: "take care of" is an ambiguous term. It leads to erroneous assumptions: The educated elite believe that no matter how much money you give to charity, it is not possible to save everybody. The other 99% believe that everybody can be saved, if only you will give enough. So for the latter group, you can never give enough. As long as there is one homeless person, or one dog living off scraps on the street, you need to open your wallet again. A conflict of world views exists here.

As for preferring to give to colleges, museums and the arts vs. homeless shelters, this reflects a difference of values. Do you want to have a discussion where you defend supporting a shelter for drug addicts vs. say, a college to educate the leaders of tomorrow? Frame it anyway you like, choice of values is individual taste. You will want to choose values that support the way of life you think is best.

Calling people assholes for preferring to endow a college over funding a needle exchange center (say) is not a value I endorse.