Selfish Americans?

This post – long in the writing and editing and research process – is partly inspired by a recent series at Oakbrook, where our pastor prayed the prayer, “Lord, Make Us Generous.” It was an awesome message to our people about the dangers of three specific obstacles: Lack of Perspective, Lack of Margin, and Lack of Imagination.

In these services, we definitely contrasted the consumeristic lifestyle that most Americans live, compared to what the role of a Christ-follower SHOULD be. The Bible says that we should be helping the needy, feeding the hungry, providing care for orphans and widows, and giving to the poor.

And while I am 100% in total agreement with the teaching of anti-consumerism, I am also one who likes to know the facts and figures and trends behind things – so I looked them up.

According to a Reuters report, charitable giving by Americans was up in 2007 to a record $306 Billion dollars. This is a 4% increase over 2006. Of that figure, $229 Billion came from individuals. The rest came from the following sources (quoted from the story).

The second-leading source of donations were foundation grants at $38.5 billion. Other sources were $23 billion from bequests and $15.7 billion from corporations, which was down by an inflation-adjusted 1 percent from 2006.

But how about across the globe? Surely Americans, with their selfish, capitalist, consumeristic lifestyles are slacking in the charity department, right? WRONG. Americans lead the world in charitable giving. Since it would be unfair to compare direct dollars-to-dollars giving among countries (differences in curreny exchange, economic systems, cost of living, etc.), the Charities Aid Foundation did a study where they compared nations by a comparison of their GDP (Gross Domestic Product). This is a much fairer way to compare. Here’s wat they found:

  1. United States, 1.4% of GDP
  2. UK, .73%
  3. Canada, .72%
  4. Austrailia, .69%
  5. South Africa, .64%
  6. Ireland, .47%
  7. Netherlands, .45%
  8. Singapore, .29%
  9. New Zealand, .29%
  10. Turkey, .23%
  11. Germany, .22%
  12. France, .14%

So Americans are TWICE as charitable as the next highest country in the world! Does that surprise you?

So what kind of person gives to charity? What is a determining factor in people’s willingness to give? John Stossel recently explored that in his column, Who Gives To Charity? Among his findings are that conservative states and conservative individuals give an average of 30% more to charitable organizations than our progressive-minded friends do.

Why do people give? This study, reported on by the Christian Science Monitor, sheds some light. It shows that giving is not related to tax breaks or selfish-incentives. It also hints that charitable giving is built in to the American psyche, as income level seems to make no difference in charitable giving. People will give regardless of their income status.

So again – I’m not trying to defend consumerism and materialism – and I definitely agree with the teaching by Mark and from Oakbrook in general, I also don’t think we should allow that effort to blind us to the fact that we are – by every measure of comparison – the most generous and charitable people in the world. Does this mean we can kick back and be satisfied that we give 1.4% of our GDP to charity? Absolutely not. We are far from where we should be.

What do you think?

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2 Comments on “Selfish Americans?”

  1. morgan Says:

    Interesting data. That rings true with what I feel in Kokomo; people like to give–just look at the We Care energy year in & year out over decades. But it seems to me that we’re not even close to tapping our giving potential.

    Even in the church where giving & tithing are central to our faith & what it is to live like Jesus, few give 10% or more. And it seems the people in the church who give 10% are not the people with the most disposable income.

    And I will add that giving is hard to do. The pennies or dollars here or there are easy. But consistently cheerfully giving takes maturity and determiniation. And I will add that it’s something people had to model & lead me into. So perhaps significant giving is directly tied to leadership. Just a thought.

  2. ehollering Says:

    Heard this same topic discussed in an economics lecture recently, though I can’t remember which one. The lecturer was quoting a study that adjusted for a bunch of factors and found that Americans actually gave disproportionately compared with other nations, which I found interesting because it runs contrary to typical rhetoric. That’s not to say that I don’t think we should give more — I do.

    Wait…I think I remember now. I believe the lecture was Peter Leeson on development economics here:

    He could have been discussing the study you linked. I don’t really know. By the way the Leeson discussion linked above or anything by William (Bill) Easterly is highly recommended for Americans with a passion for development economics — improving the living standards of the impoverished nations.

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