Are The Wealthiest The Most Generous? And if so, why?

The answer may surprise you...

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We’ve just come across a fascinating new research paper on wealth and philanthropy by a British, female (yay!) academic. Magda Osman from Queen Mary University, London, set out to discover more about who is more generous and why. Are wealthy people more or less likely to give to charity?

The world’s most famous givers are super rich: think Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. High net worth celebs are forever donating a million dollars here and there to the charity du jour (and making sure we all know about it), whether it’s rainforests or MeToo. But of course they are the only ones we hear about, because of the big sums and big names involved.

We all know that many ordinary people donate their money on a much smaller scale which may nonetheless add up to quite a sizeable fraction of their total monthly income. For some of us, donating a pound or two a week to a chosen charity or to beggars on the street is something we do as and when we feel like it. What Osman and her colleagues can now tell us is what exactly are the factors driving us to behave like this?

By inviting participants to get involved in a game with real money, the researchers could monitor who was most willing to give away their cash: the “high status” folk, who were given more to start off with or given the chance to earn more, or the “low status” ones who had less. Can you guess who was more generous? That’s right, it was the little people, not the richest. But the study went deeper and here’s where it got interesting. It turns out that far from it being empathy that drives fiscal generosity, it is actually wealth itself, and not only that, but how you came to have that wealth in the first place.

Osman concluded that those least likely to part with their pounds are rich people who have earned their money by working for it. Next in line come the well off ones who were just given their money. And the most generous? That’s right, it’s the “low status” individuals. But again, is empathy anything to do with it? Are poorer people more likely to give to others because they themselves know the sting of going without? It’s not so simple. This was a social psychology study, after all, and Osman reckons it’s because poorer people stand to gain more by contributing to the common pot than wealthy people do.

So it looks like Bill and Melinda et al are the exceptions that prove the rule. Fascinating stuff! And a reminder to us all that we should tread carefully when it comes to money, because we have a lot of power to wield with our purses, and it’s easy to abuse it.

Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash.