Last Updated:November 30 @ 09:10 am

Study: Less religious states give least to charity

By Jay Lindsay

BOSTON (AP) - A new study on the generosity of Americans suggests that states with the least religious residents are also the stingiest about giving money to charity.

The study released Monday by the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that residents in states where religious participation is higher than the rest of the nation, particularly in the South, gave the greatest percentage of their discretionary income to charity.

The Northeast, with lower religious participation, was the least generous to charities, with the six New England states filling the last six slots among the 50 states.

The study also found that patterns of charitable giving are colored in political reds and blues.

Of the 10 least generous states, nine voted for Democrat Barack Obama for president in the last election. By contrast, of the 10 most generous states, eight voted for Republican John McCain.

But Peter Panepento, the Chronicle's assistant managing editor, said that political breakdown likely speaks to a state's religious makeup, not its prevailing political views. He noted the lowest-ranked Democrat states were also among the least religious, while the top-ranked Republican states were among the more religious.

"I don't know if I could go out and say it's a complete Republican-Democrat difference as much as it is different religious attitudes and culture in these states," he said.

The study was based on Internal Revenue Service records of people who itemized deductions in 2008, the most recent year statistics were available.

By focusing on the percentage given to charity from discretionary income — the money left over after necessities are paid for — the study aimed to remove variables such as the differing costs of living around the country, Panepento said. The data allowed researchers to detail charitable giving down to the ZIP code, he said.

The most generous state was Utah, where residents gave 10.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity. Next were Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina. The least generous was New Hampshire, at 2.5 percent, followed by Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

In Boston, semi-retired carpenter Stephen Cremins said the traditional New England ideal of self-sufficiency might explain the lower giving, particularly during tight times when people have less to spare.

"Charity begins at home. I'm a big believer of that, you know, you have to take care of yourself before you can help others," Cremins said.

The study found that in the Northeast region, including New England, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, people gave 4.1 percent of their discretionary income to charity. The percentage was 5.2 percent in the Southern states, a region from Texas east to Delaware and Florida, and including most of the so-called Bible Belt.

The Bible mandates a 10 percent annual donation, or tithe, to the church, and the donation is commonly preached as a way to thank God, care for others and show faith in God's provision. But it has a greater emphasis in some faiths.

In Mormon teachings, for instance, Latter Day Saints are required to pay a 10 percent tithe to remain church members in good standing, which helps explain the high giving rate in heavily-Mormon Utah.

"Any LDS member who is faithful does that," said Valerie Mason, 70, of Mesa, Ariz., during an interview in Salt Lake City. "Some struggle with it. Some leave the church because of it. But we believe in the blessing. ... Tithing does bring the blessing of God's promise."

Alan Wolfe, a political science professor at Boston College, said it's wrong to link a state's religious makeup with its generosity. People in less religious states are giving in a different way by being more willing to pay higher taxes so the government can equitably distribute superior benefits, Wolfe said. And the distribution is based purely on need, rather than religious affiliation or other variables, said Wolfe, also head of the college's Boisi Center for Religion and Public Life.

Wolfe said people in less religious states "view the tax money they're paying not as something that's forced upon them, but as a recognition that they belong with everyone else, that they're citizens in the common good. ... I think people here believe that when they pay their taxes, they're being altruistic."

Among other notable findings of the study:

— People who earn $200,000 per year give a greater percentage to charity when they live in ZIP codes with fewer people who are as wealthy as they are.

— People who earn between $50,000 and $75,000 annually give a higher percentage of their income to charity (7.6 percent) than those who make $100,000 or more (4.2 percent).


Associated Press writers Lindsey Anderson and Rodrique Ngowi in Boston and Lynn DeBruin in Salt Lake City, Utah, contributed to this report.

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  1. newrepublicanComment by newrepublican
    August 20, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

    Alan Wolfe … said … “People in less religious states are giving in a different way by being more willing to pay higher taxes so the government can equitably distribute superior benefits, Wolfe said.”

    He is a fool. Such beliefs will empower the State to eliminate the Church and it’s mission to feed the poor … etc. It is idiotic to believe the government is more efficient in executing a program when charities rely upon and use volunteers to render many of the benefits. HE IS A FOOL and so is anyone who believes the same.

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    • BillzillaComment by Billzilla
      August 20, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

      You’re exactly right… a fool and blind!

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    • pistol packing mamaComment by txgoatlady
      August 21, 2012 @ 10:55 am

      And how many people in those states actually pay taxes? Since almost 50% of the population pay no income tax (many even get back more than they paid in), I have a hard time believing this guy’s statement. If those people believed so strongly in government, why would they take a refund in excess of what they paid in? Wouldn’t they want that money to go to the “greater good?” Wouldn’t the wealthy in those blue states try to avoid loopholes in the tax code that help reduce their tax burden? Why does John Kerry moor his yacht in a different state if Democrats believe that taxes are such a wonderful thing? These people are a bunch of hypocrites. They are only generous when they are spending other people’s money. They are tight-fisted when it comes to their own money and funding private programs that actually do some good.

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    • cxComment by genesal
      August 21, 2012 @ 11:27 am

      Well he’s got the Mormon part wrong so I’m not apt to believe the rest anyway. Mormon’s not only pay tithing (10% of total income, not their discretionary amount) but they also pay (voluntarily) what’s called fast offerings which are then available to provide financial help to those in need. No set amount.

      So since Utah is just over 60% Mormon either a lot of others are giving also or Mormons are giving more to average 10.6

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  2. Charles MartelComment by Charles Martel
    August 20, 2012 @ 4:43 pm

    “Less religious states give least to charity”?

    It takes a study to figure that out?

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    • nickster99Comment by nickster99
      August 21, 2012 @ 7:53 am


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  3. Tonto (USA)Comment by Tonto (USA)
    August 20, 2012 @ 4:48 pm

    The people’s commune has eliminated the need for charity….now charity is DEMANDED and MANDATED by “entitlement”.

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  4. er750Comment by er750
    August 21, 2012 @ 1:31 am

    Professor Alan Wolfe said, “It’s wrong to link a state’s religious makeup with its generosity…then he continues to comment on the altruism of people in the less religious states, “…by being more willing to pay higher taxes… How does he know that they are more willing to pay higher taxes? Or perhaps people in the more religious states are more willing to give more to charity to “keep up with the Jonses.” Truthfully, I will not make that claim, because I do not have the evidence and also it would naked propaganda of the same type Professor Wolfe expressed above.

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  5. cfhardersonComment by cfharderson
    August 21, 2012 @ 2:36 am

    This study is flawed because of the limited source of data.

    The study was based on Internal Revenue Service records of people who itemized deductions in 2008, the most recent year statistics were available.

    This means it studied the contributions of only those 2008 tax returns that itemized deductions. In 2008 the Standard Deduction was as follows:
    Single: $5,450
    Head of Household: $8,000
    Married Filing Joint: $10,900
    Married Filing Separately: $5,450
    Qualifying Widow/Widower: $10,900
    and an additional $850 for each dependent.
    These standard deductions were also subject to income phaseout restrictions. For 2009, those phaseouts started at $125,000 for a Married Filing Separately to $250,000 for a Married Filing Jointly and the phaseouts ended at $186,350 for Married Filing Separately to $372,700 for Married Filing Jointly.

    This means that most tax return with higher Adjusted Taxable Incomes and definitely those with an Adjusted Taxable Income of greater that $372,700 had to itemize deductions. While lower income tax returns could use the standard deduction. All charitable contributions made on tax returns using the standard deduction would not be included in the results of this study.

    As a result of this flawed method of data collection, any and all conclusions of this study are invalid !

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  6. cfhardersonComment by cfharderson
    August 21, 2012 @ 3:12 am

    This study tells me only about the contributions of the top 1% or 2%.
    Also where did those contribution go? The authors of this study suggests correlation between contributions to all charities and religious participation. The author emphasizes the practice of tithing in the LDS church as well as other fundamentalist churches. However, that does not prove a cause-effect between these contributions to all charities and religious participation.

    How do you know that these contributions went to Churches and religious charities ? Contribution to the local art museum or community civic project can be deductible contributions.

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  7. midamericaComment by midamerica
    August 21, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

    a lot of super wealth give to charity they control they transfer stock of their company and that way get deduction and advoid inheritance tax

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  8. prologicComment by prologic
    August 22, 2012 @ 8:45 am

    “The Bible mandates a 10 percent annual donation”

    This is not true. The old Jewish law, which is no longer in force, required a tithe. But the NewTestament guide to giving is “give as you have prospered”. It is up to the individual to decide the amount. Also, “God loves a cheerful giver” and “one reaps what he sows” are useful guides to the how and why of charitable giving.

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