We have all heard it, but, let’s be honest, it still surprises many of us: Lower-income people give proportionally more to charity than wealthier people. To be clear, they don’t give more overall, but they do proportionally.
According to a theatlantic.com article, in 2011, the wealthiest Americans, those with earnings in the top 20 percent, contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid — those in the bottom 20 percent — donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.
Research discussed in the article suggests several of many explanations. The first is that greater exposure to and identification with the challenges of meeting basic needs may create “higher empathy” among lower-income donors. The second is that it may depend on the neighborhood the wealthier people live in. Findings indicated that wealthy people who lived in homogeneously affluent areas — areas where more than 40 percent of households earned at least $200,000 a year — were less generous than comparably wealthy people who lived in more socioeconomically diverse surroundings. It seems that insulation from people in need may dampen the charitable impulse.
I still find this information interesting, but the real reason that I have included it is as a predicate to one of the answers to the important money question of whether money can buy you happiness?
So, can money buy happiness? In a Ted Talk I recently heard on NPR, the encouraging answer is, YES, if you spend it on
That statement was confirmed in a huffingtonpost.com article. Michael Norton, an associate professor at Harvard Business
School, indicates that spending money on yourself does not make you happier, but spending money on others, no matter how it is spent, or how much, could improve your mood.
“If you think money can’t buy happiness, you’re not spending it right,” Norton said. “You should stop thinking about which product to buy for yourself, and try giving some of it to other people instead.”
“The reason that money doesn’t make us happy is that we’re always spending on the wrong things, and in particular that we’re always spending it on ourselves,” he said.
Norton said that in numerous studies when people spent money on other people they got happier; when people spent money on themselves, they didn’t get happier. “It didn’t make them less happy; it just didn’t do much for them.”
Norton also said that in a study at the University of British Columbia, students who were given money and spent it on others became happier, while students that were given money and spent it on themselves were not any happier.
On the other hand, there is some research that indicates spending money to buy time-saving services may make some people happier.
As discussed in a 2017 article in independent.co.uk, in one study, the researchers gave money to 60 people in Vancouver to spend on a material purchase on one weekend and a time-saving service on another weekend. They found people were happier in the latter case.
However the survey found that many people did not seem to want to buy time-saving services, even when they could easily afford them, because it would make them feel lazy.
So, apparently, if you spend it right, money can at least make you HAPPIER.
On to a different and final subject, that may not directly impact your personal finances right now, but, in these times of more and more government budget deficits, it may impact them in the future. In connection with the recent federal government shutdown, there were a number of reports about the closing of various national parks, or the reductions in services at some of the parks. I am not sure why, but it reminded me of something that I had once heard about the amount of land in Alaska that is owned by the federal government. So I went checking. It turns out that the federal government owns about 640 million acres of land, which is about 28 percent of all of the land in the United States. In Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Utah, it is more than half of all of the land in the state. In Alaska it is 61.2 percent of the land. It got me thinking, but I couldn’t find any statistics on all the land that is owned by the federal, state and local governments. Think about it, Mendon Ponds Park in Monroe County alone is 2,500 acres.
With so many state and local governments struggling financially, and with the federal government’s increasing debt, will we be paying more in taxes in the future to support this land and these parks, or could services at some of them be cut back in the future?
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo