Age has long been recognized as the most reliable predictor of giving. Age zeroes in on life experience and correlates to both earning capacity and relative debt reduction. Additionally, it correlates with length of residence in a community and investment in the institutions that contribute to quality of life. In general, for those 75 and older, the potential negative impact on charitable giving of declining income post-retirement is offset by strengthened commitments of donors to their preferred charitable causes.
Patterns repeatedly find that education attainment is the second most significant factor affecting giving. It embodies both life experience through education and the financial capacity that comes from increased occupational opportunities. While education is a significant force, trends show that it is far from the sole life experience affecting giving. For example, religion positively influences charitable giving among those without a higher education degree. It is useful to view in tandem with additional indicators.
Households vary in their giving depending on who comprises the household unit. Different combinations of household composition can impact charitable contributions.
In general, families are more likely to make charitable gifts than single-person households. Overall, when two or more employed people share a household, they are more likely to have the discretionary income to dedicate to charitable giving. The presence of children in a household can make a significant difference on giving as well. According to data from the Consumer Expenditures Survey, families with children over six years old tend to donate more than households with younger children.
Furthering this trend, married individuals with no children tend to give the highest amounts to charity. By comparison, households headed by single individuals with children under 18 years old tend to give the least to charity.
A look at household income—regardless of household composition—provides another valuable indicator of giving. As one would expect, indicators of financial capacity such as income tend to correlate significantly with likelihood to give.
Giving averages by income generally show that average donations climb as income climbs. Intuitively, this shows the influence of financial capacity to give upon actual giving behavior. As indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Consumer Expenditures Survey, giving to educational institutions and charities soars when income exceeds $150,000 per year.
Discretionary spending is generally defined as expense for what one wants but doesn’t need, and it has long been considered an indicator for charitable giving. It constitutes household spending not required to be spent on items like taxes, debt, or other necessities, like rent or groceries. Some types of expenses, like buying new furniture or eating out at a restaurant, have a higher share of want relative to need, and these differences allow us to compare how discretionary spending flows to charities relative to how it is spent on other items.
In general, discretionary spending is at its highest when required expenses and obligations, like mortgage or debt repayments, are less burdensome. This dynamic allows us to see how both age and education factor into an individual’s earning potential, which in turn factors into their discretionary spending. While these factors are strong, an additional one that comes into play is household composition. Households headed by couples tend to have greater combined incomes, and traditionally, a greater frequency of charitable .