Utah and Mormons are the most generous givers

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(RNS) Utah is tops among all 50 states in generosity, according to a new report posted this week by WalletHub.

The report by the Word Giving Index breaks down “generosity” into two main categories: the state’s rate of volunteerism and the percentage of income its people spend on charitable donations.

In Utah, people donate an impressive 6.6 percent of their income to charity. New Hampshire was the stingiest, with just 1.6 percent of income given away.

Utah also ranks first in the percentage of people who say they donated their time (56 percent) and the total number of hours they volunteered (75.6 per person, nearly four times the volunteer hours of the lowest state, Kentucky).

Given Utah’s majority Mormon population it’s not surprising that the state came first in charitable giving. According to social science researchers Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson, Mormons rank first among all religious groups in the United States in terms of charitable giving, donating 5.2 percent of income (though due to the small number of Mormons in this study the results “should be treated with caution.”)

That’s barely half of the 10 percent “gold standard” that Mormons are taught to strive for, but it’s nearly 2 percentage points higher than the next-most-generous group (Pentecostals, who give 3.4 percent) and far higher than the miserly Jehovah’s Witnesses (.9 percent), the nonreligious (1.1 percent) and Roman Catholics (1.5 percent).

Expectations are key to generosity, Smith and Emerson find. Religious groups that set a high (and clearly stated) standard, like Mormons do, are more likely to raise up members who tithe.

For example, only 1 out of 100 “tithe-paying” Christians — those who give at least 10 percent of their income to charity — come from religions that expect members to give between 1 percent and 4 percent of their income. On the other hand, a quarter of full tithe-payers “are in churches that … expect members to give 10 percent or more of their income.”

Such high expectations — and, in Mormonism, the knowledge that only a full tithe can grant a member access to the LDS temple — help to create a culture of givers, says Smith.

And that’s true every day of the year, not just on #GivingTuesday.

(Jana Riess writes the Flunking Sainthood column for RNS)