“It’s like the more money we come across the more problems we see”

Last night I was talking to my wife about how I was far more giving to people in need when I was struggling financially than I am now.  I hypothesized that it had to do with a few factors, namely my sense of responsibility to my fellow citizens of San Francisco when I lived there and my sense of being a nomad while in Portland. In other words, it was easy for me to think of people in San Francisco as my neighbors because it was “home.” I have seen myself as “just visiting” Portland for three years. Also, I found myself around people who were struggling against poverty when I lived in San Francisco. I used public transportation more. I walked more. This removed me from the isolation and comfort of my vehicle. I drive a lot more in Portland which places me in a bubble where I don’t cross path with people in need as often.

Ironically, this morning I heard a story on NPR on a recent study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy that says, “It turns out that lower-income people tend to donate a much bigger share of their discretionary incomes than wealthier people do. And rich people are more generous when they live among those who aren’t so rich (see “Study Reveals The Geography of Charitable Giving”).” This seems to confirm my intuitive thoughts on becoming less charitable as I become financially comfortable as well as my ideas of proximity.

The study determined several other points of interest: the rich aren’t the most generous; when the rich live near the rich they give less; when the rich live in a more diverse economy they give more; red states are more generous than blue states; Utah is the most generous state (percentage wise) while California gives the most overall (one of every eight dollars for charity); religion does impact charity; and tax incentives matter (see “America’s Generosity Divide”). You can read more here.

I remain quite fascinated by the idea that as our incomes rise the percentage that we give shrinks. I know this is true from my own experience. I presume that it is true that it has do with our surroundings changing as we become wealthier and therefore we begin to lack awareness. Interesting.


See also:

Nate Berg, “Isolated and Under-Exposed: Why the Rich Don’t Give” from The Atlantic Cities