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Why the poor are more charitable than the rich
One group of Americans gives 1.3% of its income to charity. Another gives 3.2%. Guess who's rich and who's poor.


The Atlantic asserts that, despite all the charitable gifts and building naming on behalf of Carl Icahn, Phil Knight, Paul Allen, Mort Zuckerman and other members of the modern American aristocracy, rich folks aren't nearly as generous to charities as their poor counterparts. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans -- those with earnings in the top 20% -- gave an average 1.3% of their income to charity.


On the other side of the coin, those with earnings in the bottom 20% donated 3.2% of their income. It's not that either is particularly more generous than the other. It's just that the company each keeps has a strong effect on how much each donates and to whom.


The richest Americans, for example, have their charity numbers dragged down a bit by the charitable tax deduction that they tend to itemize on their return more frequently than poorer Americans. The wealthy also tend to give a bit differently, preferring to funnel their charitable donations to colleges and universities, arts organizations and museums. Of the 50 largest individual gifts to public charities in 2012, 34 went to educational institutions including Harvard, Columbia, and Berkeley. Museums and arts organizations such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art received nine such gifts, with the remainder going to medical facilities charities like the Central Park Conservancy.


Not one went to a social-service organization or a group that works with the poor. Those poor, meanwhile, tend to give almost exclusively to religious and social service organizations. Patrick Rooney, the associate dean at the Indiana University School of Philanthropy, told The Atlantic that increased exposure to poverty creates “higher empathy” among lower-income donors. Meanwhile, Paul Piff, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, published research that drew a link between wealth and unethical behavior.


“While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything,” Piff told New York magazine, “the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people.”


The simple answer is that each group goes with what it knows. That neither really knows the other is a far more telling, if not troubling, economic and social indicator.
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