Charitable Giving: These Are Most and Least Generous States. But Why?

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Earlier this month, released a graphic showing the most and least generous states. Since then, personal finance writers -- myself included -- have struggled to find a pattern that helps explain why some states give so much to the less fortunate, while others give so little.

But, while some theories help explain a small portion of the map, there hasn't been any theory to completely account for why people in some states give and those in others don't.

First, the map:

The most obvious outlier is also the easiest to explain: Utah, with a 10.6% charitable giving rate, is far and away the most generous state in the union. It also has the highest proportion of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the union. (More than half the population self-identifies as Mormon, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.) The church's tithing requirement, in which members are expected to donate 10 percent of their income, goes a long way toward explaining Utah's impressive generosity.

This factor also may also help explain the relatively high generosity of at least one other state: Idaho has a very high percentage of LDS members -- and also ranks among the 10 most generous states.

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But what of the rest of the union? One correlation to consider is state taxes: Of the ten states with the highest tax rates, four are among the chintziest when it comes to charity. On the other hand, of the states with the lowest overall tax rates, only one hits the top ten when it comes to charitable giving. In other words, when it comes to generosity, there seems to be almost no linkage to state tax burden.

Another angle might be unionization: All but one of the most generous states also have right-to-work (anti-union) policies; Nine of the 10 least generous states don't. Geography also seems to play a part: Eight of the 10 most generous states -- Maryland, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma -- are located south of the Mason-Dixon Line. All eight of the least generous were in the North.

Ultimately, though, Utah may give the best glimpse into the way that charity works in America. Early in 2012, Gallup released a poll ranking the most religious and least religious states in the union. Of the most religious, only two -- Louisiana and North Carolina -- were not among the most generous. Conversely, of the 10 least religious, five were among the least generous.

In other words, when it comes to giving to others, it looks like the shortest way to an American's heart may be through the collection plate.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.
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