The Science behind Giving

Jan 31, 2013

Why do we give? Is it because of biology or is it more of a social issue? In a study done at the University of Notre Dame, sociologist and professor Pamela Paxton uses two cross national surveys to uncover the social, economic and political structure that effects people’s generosity. She determined the three leading factors in why or why not we give are resources, opportunity and social norms.

            Factors that determine generosity include economic standing, formal education, religious affiliation and altruism. People with more money generally have a higher level of formal education. These people have acquired more of the civic skills necessary to volunteer and are more informed about social issues like poverty. They also have the resources necessary to aid those in poverty. Not surprisingly, people with a strong religious affiliation were more likely to participate in philanthropic activities. What may come as a surprise is that non-religious people who lived in communities with people of religious affiliation were more likely to be philanthropic.

            Researchers argue that true altruism can never be achieved because if people “feel good” after giving it cannot be true altruism. Paxton is not concerned with answering the question of altruism. Paxton said “What does interest me is the fact that generosity and altruism are central in a well-functioning society. I don’t think you have to answer this question in a philosophical way sense to understand the causes and consequences of generosity.”

            Here at the Salvation Army we believe in giving strongly. We understand many Michigan citizens are going through tough financial times now, but we also understand Michigan citizens have always been able to rally around a good cause. They’ve always been able to put the greater good before themselves. It is because of many Michigan citizens that I believe true altruism can be achieved. The Red Kettle campaign and the Bed and Bread® Club are all real life examples of the altruistic nature of people.

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