One national study found that gifts to friends and donations to a good cause increased happiness in donors at every income level. Another study found that the positive emotions resulted whether the gift was large or small—even as small as $5.
This research reinforces what people working in philanthropy know: you don’t have to be wealthy to be generous. Philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Paul Allen, Warren Buffett, and Oprah Winfrey are able to do large and inspiring projects with their philanthropy. But they are the exception, not the rule.
People with lower incomes consistently give a higher percentage of their incomes than wealthy people do. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, in 2007 households making less than $19,000 gave 4.3% of their income; all other income groups donated between 2% and 2.7%. Giving from lower-income households also declines less in hard times than the giving of wealthier donors.
And those donations add up. The total amount of money donated in 2005 by households making less than $100,000 a year—nearly $90 million—almost equaled the total amount of money donated by people making $200,000 to $1 million—just over $91 million.
Some facts about donating:
- Women are more generous than men
- Older people give more than younger donors with equal incomes
- The working poor are America's most generous group
- Recent immigrants are also likely to be generous
The difference? It seems to be strong social connections and empathy. Lower-income donors are likely be to members of a faith community. And they are likely to have been in the position of those they are helping—and to recognize that they could be again.
Happiness, by Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener
Key to Happiness: Give Away Money
The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University
America's Poor Are Its Most Generous Givers