Happiness is greater motivation to give than wealth, global study finds

Happiness is greater motivation to give than wealth, global study finds

The World Giving Index, the largest study ever carried out into charitable behaviour across the globe which ranked the UK the eighth most charitable nation in the world, has found that happier people are more likely to give money to charity than those who are wealthy.

The study, commissioned by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), used a Gallup survey on the charitable behaviour of people in 153 countries representing 95% of the world’s population. The survey asked people whether they had given money to charity in the last month and to rank how happy they are with life on a scale of one to 10.

CAF compared the strength of the relationship between giving with both a nation’s GDP and the happiness of its population. CAF found that the link between happiness and giving is stronger than the link between wealth and giving.
The study also measured two other types of charitable behaviour alongside giving money – volunteering time and helping a stranger. The  Index combines the levels of each charitable behaviour to produce a ranking of the most charitable nations in the world.  
The UK finished joint third, alongside Thailand, in terms of giving money, with 73% of the population having donated to charity. Adults in the UK gave £9.9bm to charity last year with medical research, hospitals and hospices and children and young people being the top causes for Britons. The UK’s happiness score was 5.6, slightly above the global average of 5.4.
Richard Harrison, CAF director of research, said: “We have always thought of ourselves as a charitable nation and now for the first time we can see how charitable we are compared to the rest of the world. Donating money to charity is something that is traditionally seen as being driven by how wealthy a person is.  However, it is clear that happiness plays an important role in influencing whether people give.
“The findings suggest a positive cycle where one person gives to charity, the charity improves the happiness of the individuals they support and they in turn are more likely to give.”
Australia and New Zealand topped the Index.  Malta was found to be the country with the largest percentage of the population (83%) giving money, the people of Turkmenistan are the most generous with their time with 61%  giving time to charity, and Liberia was top of the list for helping a stranger (76%).

Commenting on the study, Cathy Pharoah, co-director of the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy (CGAP) at Cass Business School says: “It is an intriguing and interesting study and certainly provokes further questions. For example, the study finds that 12% of Swedish people volunteer time, putting them 45th in the volunteering league.

"Yet the findings of a more in-depth annual study of Sweden, which has a highly developed sports volunteer programme, show that 50% or more of people give their time. This does to some extent undermine the credibility of such a study and raises questions about other findings. It would have been useful to have compared the study with other national surveys on giving to explain what underlies such discrepancies. Surveys like this cost a lot of money and you want to make sure the results are useful and meaningful."

Pharoah highlighted a number of difficulties in carrying out such a broad study. She says the omnibus nature of questioning makes it difficult to implement a universal definition for the terms used such as ‘helping a stranger’ which may be interpreted differently across the world. Also cultural differences, such as the way people might view ‘helping a stranger’ which is deeply embedded in some religions, may have also skewed results.

Dr Beth Breeze, researcher at Kent University and author of How Donors Choose Charities, says of the study: “It's always useful to have comparative data and the World Giving Index is a useful step in helping us to understand charitable behaviour around the world, and to see where the UK fits into that global picture. Richard Harrison is quite right to point out this survey shows that giving is not primarily a function of wealth: plenty of people have a lot of money but choose not to give away any or much, and some of the most generous givers have very little wealth to spare.

"But I'm not sure that we can draw strong conclusions about the relationship between giving and happiness as the causality could go in either direction. Happy people might give more, or people who give might become happier as a result, or there could be some unknown factor that is mediating this relationship - some nations might have both happier and more generous citizens as a result of a third factor."

Harrison responded to the comments, explaining, “On-going research at a local level is certainly vital; and that’s why we continue to co-fund UK Giving. But local surveys play a very different role to CAF’s World Giving Index.  Local surveys are, unfortunately, all worded differently. This is partly due to culture, and partly because it’s not viable for academics from different countries to get together to agree what are ‘the right questions to ask’. And so, as experienced researchers understand, local surveys can’t be used to answer the really burning question we are so often asked; ‘how do countries genuinely compare on generosity?’ This is exactly what we have done with this survey of an extraordinary 195,000 people, and all at no cost, thanks to our relationship with Gallup.

"It’s true that we cannot say from the data whether giving drives happiness or vice versa, and we have not tried to make that conclusion, what we have found, is that there is a stronger correlation between giving and happiness, than giving and GDP, and we see that as a very reassuring finding for fundraisers.  I believe the research community needs to deliver practical research.

"We have been delighted by the feedback we have had, and with over 20,000 mentions on websites, and a number of governments making supportive comments on the findings, we are really pleased that our report has achieved what we set out to do which is initiate a global discussion about how charitable the world is."

  The report is available to download from the CAF website.