We Americans like to think of themselves as a generous people, and a recent study suggests that we are — although we are not the most generous in the world according to the World Giving Index released in November by the Charities Aid Foundation. We are in second place behind Myanmar based on 2014 data.
The Southeast Asian nation formerly known as Burma is heavily populated with devout Buddhists who regularly give their time and their money to charitable efforts as part of their cultural heritage. Donations of time and money are two of the three aspects used by CAF to measure generosity, along with helping strangers.
CAF collects data on these aspects of giving from 145 different countries throughout the world each year and compiles the data into individual scores on each aspect, which are averaged together to create the overall rankings for the World Giving Index. The top ten nations in the giving index are, in descending order, Myanmar, the US, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Ireland, and Malaysia.
Myanmar is propelled into the lead by a whopping 92% of respondents who donate money, and they also lead in the number of respondents who volunteered time at 50%. The US leads in respondents helping strangers at 76%.
Measured in this fashion, generosity does not correlate particularly well with wealth. Myanmar is relatively poor, and the second ten countries constitute a mixed economic bag. They are Kenya, Malta, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Norway, Guatemala, Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, and Germany. The poor correlation follows to the other end of the generosity spectrum as well — the least generous nations are Burundi, followed by China, Yemen, Lithuania, and the Palestinian Territories.
The methodology may be part of the reason for the lack of correlation between wealth and generosity, as well as some of the surprising results. There is no distinction between the amount of money contributed per capita and the amount of time volunteered, and there is no minimum threshold activity listed for having helped a stranger. Thus, we get more of a picture of collective generosity. How many people in a particular nation help in fundamental ways, regardless of the amount they can contribute?
Since this is a phone survey, it could also be prone to dishonesty. People may be reluctant to reveal that they have not been generous in any of the giving categories, or that they don't participate in any single category.
Overall, CAF found that the number of people donating money worldwide increased in 2014 to 31.5%, up from 28.3% in 2013. The number of people helping strangers also increased, but the number of people who contribute in all three ways (time, money, and helping strangers) is falling. The percentages in more heavily populated countries such as China and India are decreasing, bringing down the world average. Consider that the ten countries with the largest populations make up 60% of the world's population above age 15, and seven of those countries rank below the top 50 in the World Giving Index. Five are outside the top 100 (and are therefore in the bottom 45 of the 145 countries studied).
However, there is hope for the future. Respondents between the ages of 15 and 29 had the greatest increase of those participating in all three ways of giving. The youth of the world are more socially responsible and are apparently willing to back up their sentiments with their time, money, and concern for their fellow man. That's good news regardless of where you live.