Americans are more generous than Europeans – by far
Liberals often like to portray America as a greedy cartoonish nation with a hyperindividualist, capitalist nature that cares little for the common good or others in the world.
This idea permeates our culture. When asked to describe themselves, 68% of Americans found the word “selfish” as the main negative trait.
Yet, in almost every way, Americans are more generous with their money and their time than anyone, including Europeans.
Indeed, US charitable donations exceed the total GDP of most European countries.
According to the Almanac of American Philanthropy, Americans donate about seven times as much as mainland Europeans to charity per capita. Per person, even after adjusting for differences in household income, Americans give twice as much of their income as the Dutch, three times as much as the French, five times as much as the Germans and ten times that of the Italians.
Only 14% of US donations come from foundation grants and 5% from businesses. However, over 80 percent of charitable donations are made by individuals. And this charity is found widely and deeply in society. Each year, six in ten households in the United States donate to charitable cause, and the typical household donates between $ 2,000 and $ 3,000.
The entire nation is altruistic, although the more religious the population, the more they give. But even 40 percent of secular Americans give to charity, even better than most European nations.
Indeed, in the United States, the generous are found among the rich and the poor. As a percentage of income, Americans in the lower income brackets are just as generous as the wealthy and more generous than most of the middle class. Unsurprisingly, in absolute dollars, the rich give the most, with the richest 1% of income giving one-third of all charity. And the richest 1.4 percent are responsible for almost all charitable donations made upon death.
Despite stereotypes of the selfish rich, the more the nation struggles, the more wealthy Americans get involved. During the coronavirus crisis, for example, the nonprofit branches of large investment firms saw huge increases in charitable giving from wealthy Americans. Subsidies to food banks and other food aid programs have increased 667 percent nationally – 800 percent in the hardest-hit central Atlantic states.
Middle and working class people continued to give to their local charities, even as they struggled – one report found over 750,000 transactions at over 100,000 charities in the first three months of the pandemic.
Critics in the United States argue that most charitable donations go to religious groups and therefore constitute obligations rather than altruism.
It is also a myth. The three most popular causes Americans contribute to are basic household social services, “combined purpose” charities like United Way or Catholic Charities – which help the poor – and health care.
Europeans will no doubt argue that they are already doing charity in the form of high taxes that fund great social safety nets. The data shows, however, that in overall spending, there isn’t much of a difference between the United States and other developed countries – each redistributing 20% of GDP. When added to the massive amount of charity, there is no comparison to American generosity – the only difference is that most of ours are not a state bond.
The American disposition is to rely much more on communal and local aid than the Europeans, who rely on the government to do their charity for them. Cultural habits formed over 200 years of American life have created a society that both values and relies heavily on charitable causes.
David Harsanyi is editor of the National Review and author of “Eurotrash: Why America Must Reject the Failed Ideas of a Dying Continent”