Disconnect between how much Americans say they give to church and charity versus what they actually give

Research working with recent data on charitable and religious giving suggests there is an interesting disconnect: some people say they give more than they actually do.

A quarter of respondents in a new national study said they tithed 10 percent of their income to charity. But when their donations were checked against income figures, only 3 percent of the group gave more than 5 percent to charity…

But other figures from the Science of Generosity Survey and the 2010 General Social Survey indicate how little large numbers of people actually give to charity.

The generosity survey found just 57 percent of respondents gave more than $25 in the past year to charity; the General Social Survey found 77 percent donated more than $25, Price and Smith reported in their presentation on “Religion and Monetary Donations: We All Give Less Than We Think.”

In one indication of the gap between perception and reality, 10 percent of the respondents to the generosity survey reported tithing 10 percent of their income to charity although their records showed they gave $200 or less.

Two thoughts, more about methodological issues than the subject at hand:

1. What people say on surveys or in interviews doesn’t always match what they actually do. There are a variety of reasons for this, not all malicious or intentional. But, this leads me to thought #2…

2. I like the way some of these studies make use of multiple sources of data to find the disconnect between what people say and what they do. When looking at an important area of social life, like altruism, having multiple sources of data goes a long way. Measuring attitudes is often important in of itself but we also need data on practices and behaviors.


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