Economists: diversity drives down charitable donations in Canada

Heterogeneous communities less keen on giving, new paper finds


Kathryn Harper/Flickr

With Santa soon to climb down (the believers’) chimneys, a new study found rather un-Christmassy evidence that ethnic and religious diversity tends to drive down charitable giving in Canada.

McMaster University’s Abigail Payne and David Karp, Wilfrid Laurier University’s Justin D. Smith, along with James Andreoni from the University of California, San Diego, found that a 10 percentage point increase in a neighbourhood’s ethnic diversity leads the average household to give $27 less per year to charity, out of an average donation of about $200. That’s a 14 per cent drop. Increases in a neighborhood’s religious diversity also tend to make households stingier—albeit to a lesser degree. A 10 percentage point increase reduces donations by $20, or 10 per cent.

The authors reached their conclusion after comparing data on charitable donations with census data covering a 10-year time span. The numbers showed that, as immigration drove up diversity, it also tended to drive down donations.

A few more politically incorrect findings: high-income households with lower education levels–which probably means the “nouveau riche”–are the most sensitive to changes in the ethnic compositions of their neighbourhoods; Catholics (particularly wealthy, highly-educated ones), meanwhile, tend to give or withhold the most depending on variations in the religious diversity of their hood.

Also interesting: families who habitually give to charity continue to donate regardless of who their neighbours are–though the amounts change based on the ethnic and religious make-up of the community. On the flip side, the neighbourhood scrooges are unaffected by what people living down the block look like and believe in–they continue not to give.

Of course, it’s possible that something else–an unrelated variable the authors didn’t notice–rather than diversity caused those changes in Canadians’ charitable behavior over the past decade. That seems unlikely though. The findings, as the authors themselves highlight, are similar to other studies in various countries that conclude that heterogeneous communities tend to spend less on public goods—like roads and schools—and register a lower involvement in social activities—like contributing to local fundraising events. This paper shows the trend holds true for charities as well, and that Canada is no exception.

Obviously, the research does not per se constitute an argument against immigration and multiculturalism, which have plenty of other economic advantages, especially when it comes to the production of private goods. It just points to something policy makers and NGOs should probably know to plan for.


Economists: diversity drives down charitable donations in Canada

  1. ‘Obviously, the research does not per se constitute an argument against immigration and multiculturalism, ‘


    Of course it doesn’t.

    Was that the purpose of this article?

    • Probably not. Though I’d imagine that the sort of people who would make that argument are also the sort who would donate less living in a more heterogeneous community. There are some interesting (pop)psychological arguments that can be made from these findings though. 

      • LOL more likely because there are 80,000 registered charities in Canada, and people have no idea how well they’re operated.

        Plus everytime you go out you’re being hit up for a donation to something or other.

        • I think that we’re probably arriving at the idea that, in most “markets”, competition is interpreted at the receiving end as little more than noise.

          Some tribalize and others shut down. Few have the time, desire, or wherewithal to sort and assess the different offerings and when they do, they tend to get stuck (ie. Analysis Paralysis). 

          And yes, I tend to actively avoid and ignore the organizations that set up on nearly every street corner!

          • I’ve given up on the lot of them. Either most of the money goes for administration, or they’re pushing religion on people, or they’re promising things that just can’t happen.

            I’d like to donate to children, especially their education…so this next year I’m investigating UNICEF.

            But that will be it.

          • @6a505ea7af2e1e0e7fd6eb288831f988:disqus 

            Thank you!

    • Great point, Emily.  Of course the mere demonstration that Policy X has a bad effect does not per se constitute an argument against Policy X. 

      Of course, if Policy X were some ordinary thing that is open to criticism, something like living in suburbs vs. cities, or commuting to work in cars, and we found that it reduced social cohesion and charitable giving, well then of course it would per se constitute an argument against it.

      But when Policy X is something people like Emily subscribe to as a religion, then no empirical demonstration ever constitutes an argument against it.  We all know that unlimited immigration is Godly, so anything you discover can only be an argument in favor of it, even if it sounds bad at first blush!  And thoughtful magazines like macleans can be counted on to put a little label on the research report advising you of that.

      And undoubtedly since it is so godly, God Herself will look after our grandchildren growing up in a country that does not have anything recognizably Canadian about it, with zones of Sharia law and other wonderful exotic features.  And if civic life is degraded by every objective measure, well they will still be able to look back with gratitude that their grandparents were so very intellectually advanced that they tossed aside the sort of cultural pride that has characterized all thriving civilizations since the dawn of time.

      • All ‘cultural pride’ has ever given us is war.

        Race is a social construct, and no more important than the colour of your hair….all humans have the same DNA

        There are no borders.

  2. Interesting article….there was one in the Calgary Herald yesterday saying that donors from Nanavut give the highest median donations to charity in the country – $470.00 according to statistics Canada.

  3. I would think that the “ethnics” would be giving to their church, temple or mosque more so than to general charities in their neighbourhood.
    Similar problem the bone marrow registry OneMatch is having.   Takes a while to see yourself as part of a greater community

    • Half of all dollars donated go to religious organizations in Canada.

  4. Anybody that has a job already donates a lot of money by paying taxes. Plenty.

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