Fewer Americans are Giving to Charity—and It Could Be Because They Have Become Less Religious

Fewer Americans are giving money to charity, and their relationship with God may have something to do with it.

The share of U.S. adults who donated to charity dropped significantly between 2000 and 2016, according to an analysis released this month from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Vanguard Charitable.

By 2016, just over half — 53% — of Americans gave money to charity, down from 66% in 2000. That figure held mostly steady until the Great Recession. Then it started to drop off and took a dive after 2010, said report co-author Una Osili, associate dean for research and international programs at the Lilly School.

The decline amounts to 20 million fewer households donating to charity in 2016 (the most recent year for which data was available) versus 2000, researchers said.

The analysis drew on data from the Philanthropy Panel Study, a data set within the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which tracks the same 9,000 families’ charitable giving every two years.

Americans are losing their religion

One factor driving the decline: Americans are becoming less likely to attend religious services or identify with a specific religion.

“Attending services is correlated with giving to religious organizations, but it’s also correlated with giving to secular groups,” Osili said.

Giving to charity is, of course, a core belief for many of the world’s major religions. And very religious people of any faith are more likely to give to charity, one study by Baylor University researchers found.

But there are fewer very religious people than ever in the U.S. The share of the population who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular” is now at 26%, up from 17% in 2009, according to 2018 and 2019 surveys by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan “fact tank” in Washington, D.C.

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SOURCE: Market Watch, Leslie Albrecht