Effects of Religious Practice on Charity
1. Charitable Giving
Religious practice is linked to greater generosity in charitable giving and volunteering. In extensive research documenting the relationship between religion and philanthropy, Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute found that religious people were 25 percent more likely than their secular counterparts to donate money and 23 percent more likely to volunteer time. Even when it came to nonreligious causes, religious people were more generous.1)
Brooks also demonstrated that religious practice correlates with a higher rate of care and concern for others. Compared with peers with no religious affiliation, religious respondents were 15 percent more likely to report having tender, concerned feelings for the disadvantaged. This gap was reduced by only 2 percent when the effects of education, income, marital status, sex, race, and age were taken into account.2)
The correlation between religion and increased charitable giving crosses ideological boundaries. When Brooks divided the survey population into quadrants of politically conservative, liberal, secular, and religious respondents, he found that the impact of religion on compassion applied regardless of the political perspective. Religious conservatives were 6 percent more likely to be concerned about the disadvantaged than were secular liberals, while religious liberals were 24 percentage points more likely to express such feelings of compassion than were secular conservatives.
Among the general survey population, religious individuals were 40 percent more likely than their secular counterparts to give money to charities and more than twice as likely to volunteer. Among those who felt compassion for the disadvantaged, religious respondents were 23 percentage points more likely to donate to charities at least yearly and 32 percentage points more likely to donate monthly than were their secular counterparts. They were 34 percentage points more likely to volunteer at least yearly and 22 percentage points more likely to volunteer monthly.3)
Regnerus and his colleagues found similar correlations between religious adherents and charitable giving in an analysis of the 1996 Pew survey on religious identity and influence. Individuals with a religious affiliation were 30 percent more likely to donate to organizations assisting the poor when compared with their secular counterparts.4)
The impact of religious practice on formal charity had additional significance for community cohesion. Individuals who gave to charitable organizations were 21 percentage points more likely to give informally (e.g., to family and friends).5)
Ram Cnaan of the University of Pennsylvania found that congregations as communities were almost universally involved in collective charitable outreach. In an extensive survey of religious institutions in Philadelphia, Cnaan found that 91 percent of the congregations surveyed had at least one community program that supplied goods and services to those in need, including food pantries, prison ministries, summer camps, and substance abuse prevention programs. He estimated the replacement value of the services provided by congregations in Philadelphia to be $228 million a year in the late 1990s.6)
1.1 Related American Demographics
Adults who frequently attended religious services as adolescents are more likely to have volunteered in a charitable activity in the past year. According to the General Social Survey (GSS), 44 percent of adults who attended religious services at least monthly as adolescents had volunteered in a charitable activity in the last year, compared to 33 percent of adults who attended worship less than monthly as adolescents.7) (See Chart)
Adults raised in intact, married families are even more likely to volunteer. The General Social Survey showed that adults who frequently attended religious services as adolescents and grew up living with both biological parents were the most likely to have volunteered in a charitable activity in the past year. 8) (See Chart Below)
Patrick F. Fagan and Althea Nagai, “Intergenerational Links to Volunteering in Charitable Activities: Religious Attendance,” Mapping America Project. Available at http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF09C39.pdf
Patrick F. Fagan and Althea Nagai, “Intergenerational Links to Volunteering in Charitable Activities:Religious Attendance and Family Structure,” Mapping America Project. Available at http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF09C62.pdf
This entry draws heavily from 95 Social Science Reasons for Religious Worship and Practice and Why Religion Matters Even More: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability.