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Study finds South is the most charitable region, Northeast the least

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
October 10th, 2007
Catholic News Service (

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Americans in the South contributed a far greater portion of their incomes to charity than those in the Northeast in 2005, according to a new book on church giving.

And when the calculations of charitable giving are limited to those made to churches and religious organizations, the average annual expenditures by Southern households in 2005 was nearly twice that of households in the Northeast.

"The State of Church Giving Through 2005," which was to be published Oct. 15, is the latest in a series of analyses produced by Empty Tomb, an Illinois church stewardship research and consulting company.

Husband and wife researchers John and Sylvia Ronsvalle analyzed data on charitable giving from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Expenditure Survey 2005, which put total charitable giving by Americans that year at $114.86 billion.

Looking at charitable contributions as a percentage of after-tax income, the researchers found that Southerners gave 2.1 percent of their available income to charity, those in the Midwest 2 percent, those in the West 1.5 percent and those in the Northeast 1.2 percent.

In terms of dollars, that came to an average annual donation by U.S. households of $978.71. Households in the South gave $1,077.70 each, followed closely by Midwesterners at $1,068.80 per household. Those in the West gave $948.28 and those in the Northeast gave $718.61.

The total giving includes four categories -- charities and other organizations, churches and religious organizations, educational institutions and gifts of stocks, bonds and mutual funds to people outside one's own household. Contributions to churches and religious organizations was the largest category by far in all four regions.

With an average donation of $706.81 to churches and religious organizations by U.S. households, the South again led with $816.81 for each household, while those in the Northeast contributed $453.84. The Midwest was second at $784.15 per household and the West third, at $665.61.

That pattern is not unique to 2005, the Ronsvalles said in their book. "A review of Consumer Expenditure Survey data for the 1987-2005 period found that the South had the highest average level of giving for charitable contributions as a portion of income for that period, and the Northeast had the lowest," they said.

When giving by various income groups is compared, the research found that households making under $40,000 reported giving a higher portion of their after-tax income to charitable institutions than any other group. Those making $150,000 or higher gave the second-highest portion of their income to charity.

Older Americans also contributed a higher percentage of their income to charities in 2005, with those 75 and over giving 3.7 percent and those ages 65-74 donating 3 percent. At the other end of the age spectrum, those under 25 contributed only 0.7 percent of their after-tax income to charity, while those ages 25-34 years gave 1.2 percent.

The federal report on consumer expenditures does not include information on the religious affiliation, if any, of those making the charitable contributions.

But the Ronsvalles' book looked at giving patterns in 11 Protestant denominations, finding that when the data is adjusted for inflation, per-member giving as a portion of income was lower in 2005 than in 1921, the first year the data was analyzed, or in 1933, in the middle of the Great Depression.

The book also compared giving statistics from seven denominations associated with the National Association of Evangelicals and eight mainline Protestant denominations affiliated with the National Council of Churches. Donations as a percentage of income were higher among the evangelical churches than the mainline churches, but the rate of decline in donations since 1968 was lower for the mainline Protestant churches.

Although the Catholic Church does not publish giving data, the Ronsvalles said "a standard estimate is that Catholic giving to their congregations is about 1.2 percent of income."

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