Question of the Day: Why Don’t People Give More?

Nov 25, 2014
Activity, Behavioral Finance, Question of the Day, Current Events

In light of my recent post about generosity at the check-out line and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, this NY Times column caught me eye as it asked that basic question.   Might be a good question to ask your students, “Since giving to others makes us feel good, why don’t people do it?” or even ask them what percentage of people give way 2% or more of their income?

Here is the stat that stood out from the research findings:  More than 85% donate less than 2% of their income so only 15% give away more than 2% of their income.  Why is that?  The research comes up with a few explanations:

  • Don’t think of generosity as a moral obligation
  • Don’t have enough money
  • Jobs make us too tired to be generous
  • Give to causes at work
  • Think that poor people should help themselves

So, what’s the downside to being ungenerous?  The researchers conclude the report with the following thoughts:

In the end, however, the fear of not having enough, coupled with an autonomously individualistic lifestyle, nearly always proves to be deeply unfulfilling. Attaining the sort of happiness found in material well-being and security, which the majority of ungenerous Americans pursue without regard for others, comes at a great personal cost. The battle is won, but the war is lost. The means people use to achieve this version of happiness leads to a self-defeated end. And that frustrated end obscures the deeper, richer, more complex kinds of happiness humans want, sending them on misguided searches for more of what already does not satisfy.

What do your students think?

About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.