By Aaron Earls
When it comes to donating money, helping others, and volunteering time, the United States is one of the most generous nations in the world—just not as generous as it used to be.
The World Giving Index, conducted by Charities Aid Foundation headquartered in the U.K., ranks 139 nations based on the percentage of their population who engages in generous behaviors in the last month like giving money to a charity, helping a stranger, and volunteering time to an organization.
The U.S. ranked fifth in the 2017 rankings, down from second last year. The main reason for the decline was lower levels of donating money (down seven percentage points) and volunteering (down five percentage points).
The report notes the survey was conducted in the U.S. in June and July 2016, prior to the election last fall.
America is not alone in having fewer residents donating money. The research shows a global decline since the last report. Those who reported giving money fell to the lowest level in three years.
Every Western nation ranked in the top 20 on the World Giving Index has a decreased score this year, while Africa is the only continent to see an increase in all three giving behaviors.
The Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar (formerly Burma) topped the list for the fourth consecutive year. The CAF report suggests this may be related to the religious makeup of the country. Close to 9 in 10 citizens follow Theravada Buddhism, in which followers are expected to donate and support those living a monastic lifestyle.
Despite the apparent giving nature of its citizens, a UN report in February 2017 accused Myanmar security forces of atrocities against Rohingya Muslims.
But religion is not always a predictor of national generosity. There seems to be little correlation between the World Giving Index and Pew Research’s ranking of 40 nations by the percentage of residents who say religion is very important to their lives.
Among the 10 most giving nations, only Indonesia (2) and Kenya (3) fall above Pew’s global median of national religiosity of 55 percent.
Among the 10 most religious countries, only three rank in the top 25 of giving—Indonesia (2), Uganda (22), and Ghana (23).
Ranked as the fifth most generous country, the U.S. fell just below the global median in terms of religious importance. Slightly more than half (53 percent) of Americans say religion is very important in their lives.
Who’s more generous?
Besides comparing nations, the CAF report also examines differences between genders and ages.
Men were much more likely than women to help a stranger. More than half of men globally (51.6 percent) say they’ve helped someone they didn’t know in the past month.
Adults 50 and older were the least likely to have helped a stranger, with 45.9 percent saying they’ve done so. Virtually the same number of 30- to 49-year-olds (51.9 percent) and 15- to 29-year-olds (51.5 percent) say they have helped someone they didn’t know.
Men (29.8 percent) and women (29.4 percent) are almost equally likely to have donated money to a charity in the last month.
Since starting the survey in 2012, CAF has found older adults are the most likely to financially give, and this year was no different.
More than 3 in 10 of those 50 and older (31.8 percent) and those aged 30-49 (31.2 percent) gave money in the last month. A quarter (25 percent) of 15- to 29-year-olds say they gave financially.
Globally, men (22.6 percent) are more likely than women (19 percent) to volunteer time—but those differences disappear when examining only countries in the developed world.
Among the different age groups, 30- to 49-year-olds are the most likely to volunteer (21.6 percent), followed by 15- to 29-year-olds (21 percent) and those 50 and older (20.2 percent).
Overall, almost half of those surveyed (49.6 percent) said they helped a stranger. Slightly fewer than 3 in 10 gave financially (29.6 percent). More than 1 in 5 volunteered (20.8 percent). All three rates are down from the previous year.
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AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.