Number Of Americans Giving To Charity Reaches New Lows, Especially For Religious Causes
Church pews blocked off with caution tape
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The proportion of Americans giving to charity has reached new lows.

Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy released a study on Tuesday indicating that 49.6% of American households made a charitable contribution in 2018 — the first time that the figure dropped below 50% since the study began in 2000 when 66.2% of households made contributions.

“We’ve seen a downward trend in households’ participation in giving since the Great Recession, but this is the first time that only half of U.S. households donated to charity,” said Lilly School associate dean Una Osili in a press release provided to The Daily Wire. “This new research offers clear evidence of a substantial decline in formal charitable giving rates prior to the unprecedented events and challenges of 2020.”

Though fewer Americans participate in charity, the total dollar amount of American charitable giving continues to rise a phenomenon that the study labels “dollars up, donors down.”

Of particular note is the quickly diminishing role of faith-based charitable giving in the United States. According to the press release:

The study shows that the percentage of U.S. households that donate to religious causes began to decline prior to the Great Recession of 2008-2009. Between 2000 and 2004, 46% of households gave to religious causes, but that steadily declined to 29% in 2018.

The decline in the share of households giving to secular causes did not begin until after the Great Recession, and it occurred at a slower rate than the decline in the percentage of households giving to religious causes. After hovering between 55% and 57% from 2000 to 2008, the share of households donating to secular causes dropped from 52% in 2010 to a new low of 42% in 2018.

The study details that the “dollars up, donors down” trend likely plays a significant role, as more American households’ contributions to religious causes drop to zero:

In 2000, the average donation to religious causes by Americans was $1,107; this decreased 30 percent to $771 in 2018 (adjusted for family and demographic characteristics, average giving amounts to religious causes declined 76 percent). Average giving to religious organizations by households that donated to these types of organizations increased between 2000 when the average donation was $2,380 and 2018 when the average donation was $2,656. This trend peaked in 2016 when the average donation to religious purposes among households who gave to that specific purpose was $2,760 after reaching a low of $2,302 in 2002. 

Earlier this year, Gallup found that the percentage of Americans who belong to a “church, synagogue or mosque” dropped below 50% for the first time in eight decades — a nearly identical trend to the decreasing number of Americans involved in charity. The organization stated that their findings are “primarily a function of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference.”

Across the board, however, changes in income and wealth drove roughly one-third of the changes in charitable giving. The Lilly School explains that another explanatory factor may be a decline in social capital; the researchers found that the proportion of Americans who believe that they can trust others is on the decline.

According to the Lilly School, data is not yet available to fully determine how the decline in participation was affected by COVID-19 and the lockdown-induced recession.

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