Why the Wealthy are Stingy, and How a Nighttime Stroll Through a Dangerous Neighborhood is the Cure

Another great post from Joanne Fritz grabbed our attention this week–Are the Wealthy Stingy? And What You Can Do About It.

Joanne’s answers:

Yes, and have them walk down a dark alley at midnight.

More on that latter answer in a moment.

First, the research. Fritz notes the 2002 Independent Sector survey we’ve talked about previously on this site, which shows that those with incomes over $100,000 a year give away 2.7% of their income whereas those with incomes under $25,000 give away 4.2%.

But what Fritz shares that is new is that wealthy people are not only stingier; they are also “less helpful and compassionate”: 

Paul Piff, who is a doctoral candidate in social and personality psychology at UC Berkeley, noticed that rich people seem to be ruder. He videotaped them in a lab situation as they got to know a stranger and found that they checked their cell phones or doodled and did not make eye contact. On the other hand, people who identified themselves as having less did make eye contact, laughed more, and nodded. They were more socially engaged than the subjects who identified as wealthier.

Piff went deeper and found that in a game where subjects were given $10 worth of points and asked how much of it they wanted to share, the richer individuals were less generous than poor people. In a trust game, they were less egalitarian and cooperative.

Lest you think that we poorer folks are immune from this effect, Piff found that people who felt just “temporarily higher” in social status were less charitable as well.

In my new Whole Life Offering book, I quote John Wesley, who noted the same phenomenon in his own day and concluded that unfamiliarity (of the rich with the poor) breeds contempt:

One great reason why the rich, in general, have so little sympathy for the poor, is, because they so seldom visit them.

Interestingly, it’s the same conclusion that researchers came to in the study Joanne cites in her post: rich people who report fewer day to day encounters with the poor tend to be a stingy lot.

Joanne notes that one foundation is implementing an interesting cure:

The key, then, may be to create such encounters for wealthy donors. The Boston Foundation is one that has started doing so. That organization takes people on walks through dangerous inner-city neighborhoods at night. The first hand experience is far more effective than just sharing crime statistics.

Be sure to check out this previous post on Pomona Hope and this report from Springwise for two other ways nonprofits are seeking to de-stingify the rich by giving them firsthand encounters with the poor–encounters where the poor are rightly portrayed not as objects of pity but as subjects of great potential.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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2 Responses to Why the Wealthy are Stingy, and How a Nighttime Stroll Through a Dangerous Neighborhood is the Cure

  1. Joanne Fritz says:

    Thanks for the great post, Eric! And for the additional resources.

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