Of the 1,000 most-generous communities in the United States, only 9 are among the country’s wealthiest, according to the study. The most-generous communities were defined as those who gave the largest percentage of discretionary income to charity.
The same hold true for individual American households rather than communities. In terms of total dollar amount, the wealthiest give the greatest amount to charity. But those in the middle-class give the biggest percentage of their income away. Households that earn between $50,000 to $75,000 give an average of 7.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity, while households that earn $100,000 or more give an average of 4.2 percent of their discretionary income to charity.
The study, which was based on Internal Revenue Service records, also found that red states tended to be more generous than blue states.
The economic study appears to confirm psychological research, which found that those who are better off economically become less empathetic. A study conducted at the University of California found that people in lower socio-economic classes are more physiologically attuned to the suffering of others than their middle- and upper-class counterparts.
“It’s not that the upper-classes are coldhearted,” UC Berkeley social psychologist Jennifer Stellar, lead author of the study published the journal Emotion, explained. “They may just not be as adept at recognizing the cues and signals of suffering because they haven’t had to deal with as many obstacles in their lives.”
Other psychologists at the University of California have argued that rising up through the classes doesn’t just change your economic status, it changes the way you think about other people — who you need to rely on less and less.
“One clear policy implication is, the idea of nobless oblige or trickle-down economics, certain versions of it, is bull,” Dacher Keltner of the University of California-Berkeley said. “Our data say you cannot rely on the wealthy to give back. The ‘thousand points of light’ — this rise of compassion in the wealthy to fix all the problems of society — is improbable, psychologically.”
Keltner speculates that people of lower-classes are more empathetic because they need to rely on others more often to be successful. Those who can’t afford daycare service for their children, for example, turn to neighbors or relatives to watch the kids.
“If you don’t have resources and education, you really adapt to the environment, which is more threatening, by turning to other people,” he explained. “People who grow up in lower-class neighborhoods, as I did, will say, ‘There’s always someone there who will take you somewhere, or watch your kid. You’ve just got to lean on people.’”