The Most Generous Nation in the World

For some reason, Americans have a reputation for being greedy. Perhaps it’s because so many people have been conditioned to associate capitalism with greed. The truth is, the United States is the most generous nation in the world. This chart shows the top ten countries ranked by private charitable contributions.

Charitable Aid Foundation

Arthur C. Brooks, Director of the NonProfit Studies Program at Syracuse University, conducted a study on charitable giving a couple of years ago, and published the following findings.

70 percent of Americans give to charity each year, and do so at far higher levels than people in other developed nations: three times as much as the British, four times as much as the French, and seven times as much as the Germans. …

Why are Americans so much more generous than our European counterparts, many of whom look down on us as being mercenary and crass? Do we give more just because we have more to give? That may be part of it. But the graph above ranks countries by giving, as a percentage of GDP, showing that Americans don’t just give more overall; we give proportionately more, relative to our income, than people in other countries.

In the same study cited above, Professor Brooks also researched relationships between how much individuals give to charity and their socio-political perspectives. Based on the results, he proposed a possible explanation for why Americans are more generous in our private charitable contributions than Europeans are.

Those who believe that government should redistribute income are far less likely to give voluntarily to help others. This helps explain why, compared to the United States, European states … see low levels of private giving.

Perhaps those who feel it’s the government’s role to help the needy don’t contribute as much privately because they believe the government has it covered. Presumably, they figure they’re already contributing through taxes, so it isn’t necessary to donate privately as well. Yet, in this country, the people who believe the government spends too much on social welfare programs pay the same amount of taxes, but still feel impelled to give more of their own private resources to help those who are truly in need.

In 1996, the General Social Survey asked a large sample of Americans whether they agreed that, “The government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality.” Those who “disagreed strongly” with this statement gave an amazing twelve times more money to charity per year, on average, than those who “agreed strongly.”
Arthur C. Brooks

This raises the question of whether those who think it’s up to the government to take care of the poor would be inclined to contribute more to humanitarian causes if the government were not assuming that role. If they paid less in taxes, would they donate proportionately more to charities? If so, we might be able to do a better job of helping the truly needy by eliminating government welfare programs and reducing taxes.

Private charities tend to be more efficient than government programs. (See Feeding the Needy or Bolstering the Bureaucracy.) Given the same amount of money, it’s likely that private charities could address the problem more effectively than the government does. If the government were to get out of the charity business, perhaps the folks who think we’re not doing enough would contribute more of their own time and money, instead of always crusading for higher taxes.

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Published in: on February 27, 2008 at 11:57 pm  Comments (30)  
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  1. […] Why are Americans so much more generous than our European counterparts, many of whom look down on us as being mercenary and crass? (more) […]

  2. Note: The last quote in this article was added on 4/6, and is from an article by Arthur C. Brooks, published in National Review Online on 4/1.

  3. I would love to know the names of charitable trust that like to donate to developing countries rural development projects.Moreover,the list of organisations that sponsors indigenous people organisation by financing projects and material donations.
    I can beleive that USA and UK are the most generous countries in the world.The difference is that, the UK donate easily than the USA to public and private organisation, while in the USA donates to large organisations more easily.What i mean is that, the USA system to approve grants is a little more complicated, whereas in the UK, is more easy to approve a grant for seed orgnisations than in USA who request a lot of paper work.

  4. US charitable donations are so high compared to European nations, because Americans have to donate money to their own people, since their social programmes are poor. This isn’t a chart on donations to foreign countries. When it comes to private donations to foreign countries, peiople in Western Europe give far more.

    • Do have any proof of that? Perchance we give more in charity, because we are financially able to whereas EU is sucked dry by polite Socilism?

      • LNSu,
        A simple Google searcg will supply you with all of that information. Western Europeans give out much more in foreign aid than Americans. Also, this chart is based on the grand total per country, not per capita. The US is the 3rd most populated nation in the world, so yes their bottom line will absolutely have a larger sum than any other country. If you looked at the most generous countries based on how much the average citizen per country gives, the US falls at around number 20. It is those “lazy socialists” who contribute more out of their own pocket (on top of already paying high taxes).

  5. Americans, contrary to popular belief, are a kind and generous people. It’s as simple as that. Stop making excuses. from a European

  6. This statistics isnt exactly fair.

    If you count 300 000 000 americans to 1/3 british then americans give more.

    But if you compare EU and USA then EU totaly gives 50% of worlds charity money.

    If you count on per capita money counted from % of average salary put away then norwegian countries like Norway, Sweden are actual winners – where people gives the largest % of their salary from their pocket.

    • Thats because the scandinavians are socialists, taxed to the brink, pay 50 percent taxes, and could never compete in a capitalistic state such as the U S A

    • You are ignoring that the statistics are not total dollar amounts, but “percentage of GDP”, so, on the average the percentage of what we make, that we give.

  7. If Americans give more to their own people than Europeans, because our social programs are poor, as Erik said, I believe that is a good thing. Anyone on government assistance for a long time, comes to view it as a well deserved pension. Government bureaucrats come to see these people as a customer base to be retained and grown.

    Private charities have more of an incentive to get their best customers to move forward to independence. They are also more accountable to the money providers.

  8. Iam happy that america is such a generous country. And that is why they are where they are today. But when you look at poor countries in the world today and you research their backgrounds, you will discover that they hardly give, even to less priviledge countries than theirs. South Africa is a shining example from Africa and it goes to confirm the scripture that says givers never lack. I have made up my mind to be generous from this moment forward and you can be sure of the results. Thank you.

  9. america (usa) isn’t very generous where developement assistence is concerned. they don’t even spend twice as much as germany, though germany has only about 80 million inhabitants. and the whole european union spends much, much more money. correct me if I’m wrong

    p.s.: america isn’t a country! ask the canadians!

    • tom,

      How does developement assistance compare with the total given to poor countries? I would think the US fares pretty well overall. Also Germany and the EU have been defended by the US for the last half century. They do not have American defense expenses and therefore should have more to give.

    • If you want to talk about “developmental assistance” you also need to consider that the U.S. spends a massive amount of money on the U.S. navy which keeps the oceans free for transport of goods for all of the world. The whole world benefits from the U.S. control of the seas and I am sure that the cost of policing the seas is more than the developmetnal assistance you are referring to.

      And don’t forget that we have troops in Germany, Japan, S. Korea, and the middle east to try to create stability in those regions and to keep the price of oil stable (this greatly benefits all of the world).

  10. Tom,

    How does US giving as a percent of disposable income compare with that of other countries? Generosity seems more a comparison of what i give versus what i have rather than the total amount I give versus the total amount that others give.


  11. I do believe that America is a generous country because American’s government allows immigrants to come in, and I’m one of them. If I couldn’t come here, I was definitely will not going to college after I graduated in my country. Now, I’m a sinior in High School and I will attend to the university this year. My future is brighter because of the education in here, the generous county that I really grateful.

  12. As an American living in the UK I can say that there is a remarkable level of charity and charity organisations actively working within the communities. There does appear to be a widepsread effort to give in the UK which I participate in regularly (i.e., London Marathon for British Lung foundation, Edinburgh Marathon for Macmillan cancer support, and many more). However, I do also believe that many Europeans are in denial about how generous America and Americans can be…bashing the US is just too easy for them. Americans are too fat, too lazy, to greedy. Unfortunately, it tends to mask their own issues. Perhaps those who don’t believe in Americas charity should spend some time looking inward. For example, if you live in the UK then perhaps you can look at the proposed rise in the NI at a time when many PCT’s (Primary care trusts…run by the NHS) are under performing and going broke.

  13. Where is the list of the ten most generous countries???

    • The chart is embedded in the article. It may take a little while to load if you have a slow connection. The source is the Charities Aid Foundation report on International comparisons of charitable giving from November 2006. The chart is on page 2 of the report.


    Compare Canadian and Norwegian donations to Haiti and you will see that per person Canadians have given almost $4 per person to Haiti; the US more like $1.50.

  15. Truthfully, I think this is a silly thing to argue about. The motive behind people’s charity should be that they love other people, not that they want to achieve a certain status or appear to be better than someone.
    I love Europe, Canada and the US, they all have their share of generous kindhearted people.

  16. Those that are poor and receive charity from American institutions are humbled, and expected to be thankful for the privilege of receiving that what no longer makes them needy, according to the thinking of today’s conservatives.

    It was regarded as a privilege in the olden days for the poor to receive from the aristocracy much needed bread crumbs and sustenance so as to stay alive.

    They were expected to kiss the feet of those that fed them!

    Today in this modern environment, those that are in need of a helping hand are no longer regarded as beggars that need to be dehumanized so as to receive help within our economy.

    Our society has evolved and has created laws and civilized our customs so that in today’s environment a living wage and government assistance is regarded not as a “Privilege,” but as a “Right” that is guaranteed by the laws of the land!

    The conservatives that like to lord it over the poor and make them feel less of a human being than those that have wealth, act exactly like the Aristocrats and Nobility under the system of Feudalism.

    The “Rich” and “Well Born” in that day and age lorded over the Serfs, and the poor and expected them to grovel for the privilege of receiving their meager sustenance.

    Thanks to the American Union movement and to the Progressive actions of enlightened humanitarians the old sick customs are dying and the future will no longer debase people because of income.

    Helping your fellow man will no longer be regarded as “charity” or a “PRIVILEGE!”

    It will be regarded by all civilized societies as a “RIGHT!”

    • That is exactly the wrong thing for recipients of aid to be thinking, for their own good, and is a key advantage of private charitable giving over governmental “benefits” or “entitlements”. Feeling “entitled” to other people’s earnings is the cultural “glue trap” of intergenerational poverty, besides being just morally wrong. One SHOULD NOT feel comfortable about mooching off others and a lifetime of doing so is not what a person of goodwill would wish on his worst enemy.

      “Follow the money.” The truth of the difference in charitable feeling between socialists and conservatives is seen in the difference between how much conservatives and socialist give voluntarily: twelve times as much by the blurb in the article. “Where your treasure is there shall your heart be also.” All have to say against this empirical difference is some exercise in mind reading whereby you impute ignoble motives to those who are showing you up.

  17. Check the latest statistics:
    In 2009:

    83% of Britons gave to charity
    76% of French
    69% of Germans

    Overall you give twice as much as the UK but PER CAPITA this would mean that:

    – Britons give 3x more
    – French give twice the amount
    – Germans give roughly the same

  18. […] that seems to be spread about in other countries is that Americans are greedy and selfish. The numbers actually prove otherwise, but people who spend time in America are often surprised that it is not the country of […]

  19. And you want to sey, that US is the most generous nation in the world?

    • Far more generous than we can afford to be, for a nation that’s almost bankrupt ourselves.

  20. To all our american friends,from ur irish friends,we love u will always be here 4 u.USA works hard 2 make this world a better place.great country and more important kind hearted,generous,brave,intelligent,friendly,compassionate,strong and never quit people that we so respect and always will.we send our luck and love 2 u always.don’t worry we will get there in the end guys.good always wins and we stand shoulder 2 shoulder with u untill then and from ireland,stay strong like u always do xxxxxx

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    The Most Generous Nation in the World | Government is Not Your Daddy

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