Greedy Giving?


Why is it that, on average, Americans with less money donate a higher percentage of their income than richer Americans do? Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle answered this question when he wrote The Politics. Aristotle states that “[p]roperty, in the sense of a bare livelihood, seems to be given by nature herself to all.”[1] It would seem that the more property you have, the more you have to give, and, ideally, the more you would give. However, this is not always true. As Aristotle continues, he begins to answer why by splitting wealth-getting into two related arts separated by motive. The first provides for others while the other is concerned only with accumulating the most possible, or more simply put: home management and greed. This theory remains applicable today despite the large time gap and the fact that there are exceptions to generosity at every income level as making donations is a personal decision. Modern day managers of the household still understand they should be “ready to hand, or [themselves] provide, such things necessary to life, and useful for the community of the family or state,”[2] and fulfill this role by catering to the needs of their family as well as donating to others while those believing that “riches and property have no limit”[3] are seen dedicating themselves and their work to satisfying their unlimited wants. Statistics from the International Revenue Service and censuses support this idea of Aristotle’s through the average amounts given by different incomes.

Using data from the IRS and past censuses, The Chronicle of Philanthropy created an interactive chart, updated in 2015, which shows how much Americans give on average based on areas as broad as state and as specific as ZIP code. The charitable giving profile for each area includes the percentage of giving (a ratio of charitable contributions to adjusted gross income) and the total and average contribution as well as specific donation averages for five different income brackets. These incomes range from up to $25,000 to over $200,000. All the states, while varying in levels of giving ratios and total contribution amounts, have the highest giving ratio in the lowest bracket: up to $25,000. As the incomes increase, the giving percentage only lowers[4]. Although the highest economic level ($200,000 income) is donating the smallest percentage, they are in no way giving meager or insubstantial sums and should certainly be praised for their contributions. However, intentionally or not, they give less than they can. Aristotle describes why as he says that those who have turned wealth into the final end think “that they ought to either increase their money without limit, or at any rate not to lose it,[5]” which includes donating smaller amounts. While those of lower incomes may want to make more, they, according to Aristotle, focus on providing for others which leads them to donate large amounts. By sharing their wealth, they sacrifice, or at least slow, personal economic increase for others. The average American with less affluence gives more while the average American with more, gives less, something that seems contradictory but actually makes sense with Aristotle’s definitions of the two types of wealth-getting.

[1] Aristotle, The Politics, ed. Bernardo Aparicio (Dallas, TX: Ursuline Academy of Dallas, 2016), 36.

[2] Aristotle, The Politics, ed. Bernardo Aparicio (Dallas, TX: Ursuline Academy of Dallas, 2016), 36.

[3] Aristotle, The Politics, ed. Bernardo Aparicio (Dallas, TX: Ursuline Academy of Dallas, 2016), 36.

[4] Justin Myers, Anu Narayanswamy, and Soo Oh, “How America Gives,” The Chronicle of Philanthropy, January 5, 2015, December 3, 2016,

[5] [5] Aristotle, The Politics, ed. Bernardo Aparicio (Dallas, TX: Ursuline Academy of Dallas, 2016), 37.


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