Lifestyle

The backwards link between social status and generosity

People with less are likely to give more.

“Lower status” individuals share their wealth more than their “higher status” counterparts, according to a study from the Queen Mary University of London.

Researchers set up an economic game where people were labeled either “low status” or “high status” — in terms of social, economic and educational attainment — and told to contribute any amount of money they wanted into a group pot that would later be divided by all of the players. The “lower status” individuals always contributed more to the pot.

In the social experiment, the participants used two types of (fictional) money: Some of it was money they had earned themselves, while some was money they had received by chance.

The “higher status” individuals were less likely to give away money that they had “earned” themselves, whereas for “lower status” individuals, it did not matter.

The researchers found that empathy made no difference to the amount that participants gave, contrary to previous research on charitable giving. In fact, the “low status” individuals may have believed it made strategic sense to contribute more because they would increase their reputation among members of the group.

“Status will influence the way in which people perceive and later evaluate how cooperative they are,” said Magda Osman, the lead author of the report.

And why was the “high status” group more reluctant to give away money they’d earned? The “high status” group wanted more control over the money they had earned, so they contributed less to the group’s pot, she said.

The research speaks to a larger tendency of the poor typically being more generous. Though they are less likely to give to charities and other individuals, they give a bigger portion of their income away when they do donate.

Lower-income people tend to give away between 4 percent and 5 percent of their income, compared to the rich, who give away between 3 percent and 4 percent, author Arthur Brooks wrote in “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism.”

When it comes to the total dollars donated, wealthy Americans give more to charities. Itemized charitable deductions from donors making $100,000 or more a year increased by 40 percent between 2005 and 2015, according to a study of tax filings by the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-wing think tank.

Comparatively, deductions for lower-income donors declined by 34 percent during the same time period. In 2015, more than half of charitable donations came from households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

That could be because lower-income and younger households, especially those with less education, are still recovering from the Great Recession.