Explaining Differences in Charitable Giving in Europe

Research Seminars

Making charitable donations to nonprofit organizations is a wide-spread and frequently recurring form of prosocial behavior in many Western countries. This study describes and explains cross-national differences in charitable giving, using data from 22 countries included in wave I of the European Social Survey.

Why people donate money to charitable causes is an intriguing question that has been studied in psychology, sociology, and economics since the late 1960s. In a comprehensive review of the empirical literature on philanthropy, Bekkers & Wiepking (2007) bring together dozens of experimental studies showing that individual philanthropy is strongly sensitive to social influence. From a large number of studies relying on survey data we know that individual religion and education are positively related to philanthropy (Wuthnow, 1991; Brown & Ferris, 2007; Bekkers & Schuyt, 2008). The types of arguments that are given to interpret these findings usually refer to the social context in which religious and more highly educated individuals reside. These arguments are in line with findings from the experimental literature. However, the arguments on context effects have rarely been tested empirically using survey data on individual giving nested in national contexts. In this paper we explore the role of national context in the explanation of differences in philanthropy across Europe.

From both the experimental as well as the survey literature we expect that individuals in more devout (especially more Protestant) countries and individuals in more highly educated societies are more likely to donate because they are more likely to experience stronger social norms encouraging donations. We explore whether individual religiosity and education matter more or less in more devout and more highly educated societies.


  •  Pamala Wiepking

    Pamala Wiepking // VU Amsterdam


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