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Robin Hood in reverse: exploring the relationship between income and charitable giving

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This paper describes and analyses the relationship between income and donations to charity. The hypothesis is that the ‘U-shaped curve’, said to describe the relationship between income and percentage of income given to charity, takes a different shape if redrawn with the focus on specific socio-demographic, attitudinal and behavioural characteristics of donors. Survey data on over 1000 current charity donors is used to explore and analyse giving to different charitable sub-sectors in relation to a number of different independent variables including age, gender, household size and attitudes. The analysis demonstrates that individuals on lower incomes consistently give a higher percentage of their income to charity than those on higher incomes. A negative correlation between income and percentage given to charity has previously been demonstrated and is discussed in the literature. This paper adds to that knowledge by demonstrating that this relationship still exists amongst UK donors in the late twentieth century even when a variety of other factors are controlled, including a wide range of demographic characteristics and personal explanations of giving behaviour and donating to different charitable sub-sectors. Whilst the findings are remarkably consistent, caution is required. Potential definitional problems in what survey respondents understand by ‘charity’ and ‘charitable giving’ has implications for reliability and validity of the data. In other words, do the figures measure what they intended to? Also, the key variables in the survey data upon which this analysis rests are responses to two questions regarding annual income and amount given to charity each year; the accuracy of both these self-reported figures may be affected by error, memory or social desirability bias. However, as the literature supports most of the findings and as the experts interviewed for this paper were generally positive about the findings of this research, some final conclusions and policy recommendations are offered in order to add to our understanding of charitable giving.

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