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RocketGuy's avatar

Are rich people more generous?

Asked by RocketGuy (6863 points ) April 18th, 2012

One would think so, since they have more to give. This study says otherwise:
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-wealth-reduces-compassion&WT.mc_id=SA_20120413

Is this surprising?

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52 Answers

FutureMemory's avatar

Well, people don’t get rich by being generous.

But there are plenty of rich people that have given away their fortunes, or large portions of it. (See Warren Buffet’s will). I don’t think it’s as simple a question as you’ve portrayed it to be.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

No. And this is a question of generalities, so I will make a broad statement.

Rich people in many cases have decided to believe that they are rich not because of luck or parental resources, but because they worked so very much harder than other people. It makes them feel good and like they deserve to make 300x more than their employees.

Once you adopt this worldview, you have to view those who need help as deserving of failure, and not worth supporting, for mental consistency. You are going to of course not be particularly motivated to give to them, as they don’t deserve help.

You only give what helps out on your tax rate.

janbb's avatar

Some are, some aren’t.

bewailknot's avatar

Even wealthy persons who give generously – what percentage of their wealth are they giving? Will they do without to be able to give to someone else?

I worked at a small company, and one of my coworkers had a child die suddenly. Everyone pitched in to help with funeral expenses, but the lower income workers gave the most. The owner gave $20, but so did the custodian.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I have a friend who is a major fundraiser in the Tampa Bay area. He’s really good at it. I was surprised to learn from him that, if it wasn’t for our local wealthy conservatives, many of our homeless shelters and those for battered women would have been gone long ago. He said only about 20% of his funds came from wealthy liberal individuals and groups. He said Liberals donate time, not money they don’t have. I was really surprised, since one of the battered women’s shelter is also a women’s health clinic and a pipeline for birth control, including abortion clinics. I could understand their support of our many art museums, the symphony, pushing for taxbreaks for our professional baseball and football teams while our school text books are falling apart, etc., but homeless shelters and reading programs for foreign language speakers? In public, our local conservatives portray themselves absolutely heartless in the homeless matter and many are against unskilled, poor immigrants, legal or illegal. But he assures me the money mainly comes from wealthy conservatives. It shows you can’t make blanket statements about any group. It may not be the same in Mineapolis, but if it weren’t for our local wealthy people, individuals who mostly align themselves with the Republican party and its platform, we would have no social network to catch those who drop through the cracks. Who’d a thunk?

717richboy's avatar

Pretty broad question, but as stated above, some are, and some aren’t. And, well, let me put it this way: this country is more charitable than any other nation on earth.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I’ve noticed people that made their own wealth are usually pretty generous, but others that have had it passed down to them aren’t as generous. Doesn’t always apply but it tends to go that route.

josie's avatar

I don’t know that many rich people, but the ones that I do know are very generous.

JLeslie's avatar

I agree with @bewailknot that the percentages are skewed. I think people with less money identify more with those who need money. I also think people woth less money tend to be more religious and there is constant messages of being charitable. Sometimes I think the poor give too much and hurt themselves. Helping yourself helps society.

Honestly, I know rich and poor who are very generous, and rich and poor who aren’t. When it comes to things like tipping for instance, it seems people who have worked in service industries that rely heavily on tipping are very likely to tip high, identifying with the person who is doing the work. But also people who really appreciate good trustworthy service tip high. So, some of it is personality or how people value service, more than the income they make.

Adagio's avatar

All I can add is that the most generous people I have known in my life were not at all wealthy, on two occasions I have been given a sum of money by people who have nothing, money they themselves had been given but wanted to give to me, despite my protestations, they were genuinely happier giving it away than keeping it.

Coloma's avatar

Impossible to say. I have enjoyed being very comfortable and also not comfortable and my generosity remains the same, only different in how it manifests. When I have plenty of money I am very generous in monetary ways, when I have less I am generous with my time, attention, and still find ways to create special moments of generosity.

I live by the money rule of ‘spend some, save some and give some away.”
My daughter and her boyfriend are planning a weekend in Yosemite for his 24th B-day on May 11th. We just got off the phone and I offered to pay for their accomodations, and I am also ordering him his favorite salami cheddar cheese, dark beer and another modest gift.
My daughter is so great, she knows mom is mega generous and she is always telling me to tone it down. Giving makes ME happy, and we all have lots to give regardless of monetary circumstance. :-)

Life is short, don’t be a miser. Bah Humbug!

DominicX's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe I’ve wondered about that as well. The main rich person I know, my dad, is quite generous, but he grew up relatively poor. Yet somehow I wonder if the situation would be different among “old money” rich people. That said, despite the fact that the only rich people I’ve known seem to be quite generous, the study doesn’t surprise me in the least.

Coloma's avatar

Giving is joyful..spread the love around!
I don’t abide by the old school ” Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mantra and the ” I had to do this, that and the other thing and nobody ever gave ME a break… so the f—k what?
If we have an opportunity to make life a little easier, happy and joyful for somebody else, why not?

JLeslie's avatar

@Coloma I agree. Well, I do think people need to help themselves to some extent of course, but it is wonderful to be able to help someone else. Sometimes people need a break, a leg up. A little for me, a little time, or a phone call to get them a job interview, or me giving someone some money during a tough time, can be huge for them. I love when someone treats me to something, and I love to be able to pay it forward.

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Carly's avatar

All I know is that if I win the lottery, or end up making more than $60,000/year for a salary, I’m gonna donate a lot of my money to others who need it.

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bkcunningham's avatar

I’m not sure, but I don’t think the study’s definition of compassion and generosity include giving your own children a cruise or a weekend in Yosemite. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Don’t get me wrong. I think it is generous and great. But I don’t think that is how those terms are defined for the study. Just saying.

Coloma's avatar

@bkcunningham Understood, I tend to go all non-linear, it’s the way my mind works. lol

JLeslie's avatar

@bkcunningham Absolutely, I agree. It was a tangent. Related, but not related.

wundayatta's avatar

The studies said that wealth reduces compassion, not giving. The wealthy could still give lots and lots and have less compassion. People can give for reasons besides caring about those they want to help. They may be purchasing a reputation as a do-gooder or something.

JLeslie's avatar

@wundayatta That is a different point altogether. Do gooder and tax breaks,

bkcunningham's avatar

Actually, the article said the studies showed wealth, social class and education leads to less compassion. To actually read the studies you have to be a paying member or pay for limited access to the studies. I didn’t read the studies; just the article about the studies.

Coloma's avatar

Well…that’s the rub, and makes sense. Being generous vs. compassion. I can see how that might play out. I’ve been on both sides of just about every fence there is and yes, I can say that I can recognize times where I have, perhaps, been high on giving but low on compassion. Meaning, when the tides are high it’s importat to remember when the tides were low and eating Sardines is not the same as eating Lobster.

bkcunningham's avatar

The article said wealth, social class and education. I think the social class and education part of the equation are not being noted.

digitalimpression's avatar

Mark 12:41–44
“And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.”

bkcunningham's avatar

So, it isn’t just rich people who lack compassion. It is people with higher educations. Combine the two and throw in a higher social class and you have a heartless somebitch. Smart. But heartless.

jerv's avatar

I saw a few things to the effect that the rich are less generous on average than those of modest/meager means, possibly because they are more likely to have been there and actually can sympathize. Rich people often cannot. For instance, Anne Romney was talking about her and Mitt’s hard times going through college; they had no income so they had to sell some of their stocks in order to make ends meet. Source Do you really think that people like that have sympathy? And since there is a link between compassion and sympathy, well…

@bkcunningham Note that the non-rich are generally less likely to be highly educated. Also note that the non-rich are likely to be in lower social classes than the rich. Therefore, it’s all rather tightly linked.

JLeslie's avatar

@bkcunningham Well, social class usually includes education and wealth. Some sociologists would divide things up into more than just lower, middle and upper class. Education can move someone not making a lot of money up into a higher social or socioeconomic class than their income and wealth alone might. And, of course there are wealthy people who do not have higher educations. But, usually it sort of goes hand in hand, those with higher educations tend to make more money and accumulate more wealth. But, I understand why you point it out.

I would say I kind of grew up excepted in the upper middle class, even though my dad’s salary was very low when I was young, and regular middle class when I was older. His salary was lower than the educational level of his counterparts because he worked for the military, generally lower paid than the private sector, and also had worked when I was younger as a professor.

Coloma's avatar

I was overcome with a moment of conscious compassion yesterday, thinking of an old friend and their issues which led to me letting them go. Still, those moments of true FEELING compassion cannot ever be reconciled through monetary offerings. Ideally giving that involves anothers hardship should always be tempored with true compassion rather than simple monetary extensions.

wundayatta's avatar

On the other hand, selfishness has a way of benefitting others. If you run a company, you need to hire people. That’s a way of “helping” people out. You don’t give charity and you don’t have to actually care about your people. You care about your profit, and that causes you to hire people, which helps them out.

However, because the motivation is selfishness, it is not seen as doing good. It’s seen as being selfish. Is it?

There’s a guy in my neighborhood who always asks if there are any odd jobs he can do for me. I don’t usually hire him because I usually want to do the work myself. I enjoy it. But occasionally I will hire him when I don’t want to do the work myself. I give him a job when it benefits me, not when it benefits him. Or rather, I give him a job and he takes it when it benefits us both and we agree on a price.

I also hire other workers, many with more skill. Most of those don’t come begging to me. It’s more like I go begging to them. We negotiate. If we agree on a price, money and labor are exchanged. This is not charity, but it is to our mutual benefit.

I wonder if rich people are generous with those they hire? Not in the sense that they pay them more for the same work, but in the sense that they are more willing to hire people. They may not do it out of compassion. They may do it because they need the work done. SO compassion isn’t playing a big role, I guess. Does that matter? Should anyone care?

jerv's avatar

@wundayatta “If you run a company, you need to hire people.”
Not really; have you seen job creation numbers? Pretty low compared to the increase in incomes amongst the top 1% and the increased profits of the companies they own and invest in.

The company I work for is different. The pay actually sucks, but they don’t take the money they save by underpaying us to line their own pockets. In the two years I’ve been there, they opened a third plant and increased headcount at the plant I work at considerably.

One other thing that makes your example fall flat is that the job market is more coercive, and in the employer’s favor. I was out of work for 13 months when this place hired me, so they were negotiating from a position of power.

I understand where you were trying to go, but you failed to take into account the state of the US since 2008.

SomeoneElse's avatar

How much of the apparent philanthropy is for the ‘tax breaks’? I am not saying that none of the wealthy actually give because of their true desire to help, but how many accountants have said to their clients that it looks good and the tax bill will be less?

jerv's avatar

@SomeoneElse Why does Mitt Romney come to mind immediately?

funkdaddy's avatar

I don’t think I’ll ever understand why giving isn’t enough.

People also want to judge why you give and how much as a percentage of your income you give.

It doesn’t matter.

jerv's avatar

@funkdaddy If a waiter/waitress is tipped a penny, that is worse than no tip at all. With no tip, you can think that they just forgot, but tipping a penny means that you didn’t forget, you just didn’t value their services; it’s a grave insult. And if a multi-millionaire does less than a thousandaire does, that is even worse.

That said, I respect Warren Buffet and Bill Gates for being atypical.

funkdaddy's avatar

@jerv – I waited tables for a long time, I never asked anyone if they were tipping the correct amount proportionate to their income, or asked if they really wanted to give it to me because of excellent service or if they were just doing it out of a sense of obligation or so they didn’t look cheap in front of their friends.

$50 tipped was $50 in my pocket. From a multi-millionaire or a fellow waiter, it all spent the same.

It’s the same for charities. They just need the funds (or time) to further their goals. It’s even more clear cut for people who need help.

If $5000 buys a thousand hungry people a meal, do you think they care whether that money came from billionaires or school kids? How about people living with HIV, do you think they care if funding for cure research comes from Buffett, Gates, or me?

Why belittle the contribution regardless of where it came from or why it was given?

Plucky's avatar

As many have stated, it depends on the person. It also depends what is meant by “generous” – it seems, by what I’ve read so far, that it is monetary? If it is monetary ..that depends as well. There are different types of assistance. Developmental aid, food aid, education aid, etc. I really believe the less wealthy give more to society in terms of percentages of income and labour.

@717richboy You said ”Pretty broad question, but as stated above, some are, and some aren’t. And, well, let me put it this way: this country is more charitable than any other nation on earth.”

What country are your referring to? The USA? The USA may be at the top for dollar amount but not by percentage (GNI – Gross National Income) – I believe, in terms of generosity, the percentage by GNI is the factor here. Sweden is at the top of that list.

rooeytoo's avatar

I think @janbb answered the question succinctly and accurately way up there^

And I don’t think, since we are not to judge people on how they look, or what they are, why should we judge them on why they give as long as they give.

It seems as if there is a wave of flutherites who want to make heros out of the poor and bad guys out of the rich. And the answer to that is the same as the answer to the question, some are and some aren’t (of both).

jerv's avatar

@funkdaddy The difference between tipping and charity is that tips are based on the value of the services provided whereas charity is a desire to offer what assistance you can. Now, if one table orders $30 worth of food while the six-top across the aisle orders $300 yet both tip $5, the level of acceptability is different.
I bring that up since wages for workers have remained stagnant while our productivity has tripled during the same timespan that the incomes at the top have tripled with no value added. In other words, the implication is that we are less valuable even though we do more to enhance their lives.
The similarity is that being considered worthless is insulting in both cases.

wundayatta's avatar

@jerv You are correct that you can run a company without people. And employers love it when they can invest in capital instead of hiring people.

My point, though, is that when the only way they can make more money is to hire more people, that’s when they do it. They are not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. They do it when it is to their advantage. And yet, we should not lose sight of the fact that when it is to their advantage to hire people, it is also to the people who get hired’s advantage.

That’s what I was trying to point out, and I think the story you told about your employer starting a new factory is a good example of what I’m talking about.

jerv's avatar

@wundayatta My company also seems to be an exception rather than a common thing. That might also be how they managed to grow even during the worst of the recession and never had layoffs in their history.
Thing is, companies nowadays often act in the interest of short-term gain over anything else, even sustainability. And when more people cannot afford a company’s goods/services, revenue declines, then what? It’s in their best interest, and the best interest of investors, for more people to have jobs, and for workers wages to at least keep pace with inflation. Neither of those is happening, so that means that our current course is unsustainable at best.

Nullo's avatar

I believe that I read once that rich people are less generous, percentage-wise, than poor people, on the grounds that they don’t have the money for it.

@jerv It’s surprising how so many people don’t realize that short-term gain works out to long-term expense. I’ve got dweebs in senior management who haven’t worked that out.

wundayatta's avatar

It’s weird when people don’t look at long term consequences. I think they don’t believe that it’s possibly, so why try? But some things are so obvious. Whatever [shaking my head dolefully].

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