Community + Charity = Social Mobility - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Community + Charity = Social Mobility

Community + Charity = Social Mobility

By Oz Jungic

Bills going down a funnel and coming out in coins
SourceAdam Vorhees


Generosity correlates with getting ahead, but giving alone isn’t enough. 

By Oz Jungic

Some striking correlations have emerged from recent studies about charitable giving and how people move up in the world, or at least in the United States. Households in Utah and Georgia are among the top 10 most generous donors, but while a child in Salt Lake City has the best odds of climbing the socioeconomic ladder in the nation, a child from Atlanta fares the worst.

Stats from a study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy indicate that families in Utah and Southern states like Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama give a significant portion of their after-tax income to charitable causes, while households in states like Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts give the least. Yet children in the bottom 20 percent of these less charitable states have a better chance of reaching the top 20 percent of income-earners than children from the munificent South. It seems that infrastructural shortcomings, long-term community segregation and other structural problems prevent young people from escaping poverty, despite above-average charitable giving. 

Percentage of discretionary income donated by a typical household

  • 10.6 – in Utah (No. 1 of 50 states)
  • 6.2 – in Georgia (No. 8 of 50 states)
  • 2.5 – in New Hampshire (No. 50 of 50 states)


Estimated median charitable contribution of a typical household

  • $4,007 – in Alabama (No. 3 of 50)
  • $3,807 – in Tennessee (No. 4 of 50)
  • $3,396 – in Georgia (No. 8 of 50)
  • $1,652 – in Massachusetts (No. 47 of 50)
  • $1,548 – in Vermont (No. 48 of 50)
  • $1,403 – in Maine (No. 49 of 50)

What makes Utah special? Charitable giving doesn’t lead to economic mobility, but it may be indicative of a broader culture of community support, which in turn promotes advancement. Salt Lake City boasts income improvement rates comparable to those of Scandinavian countries, Denmark and – gulp – Canada, which are among the highest in the world. Kids in these countries have a better chance of moving up thanks to strong civic engagement, educational funding and effective city planning – all present in Salt Lake City.

The strong rates of charitable donations in states with low economic mobility suggest that families are prepared to invest and sacrifice for their communities, but to achieve success their investment should go toward education funding and infrastructure. As Fareed Zakaria points out, the likelihood of social advancement in Canada and Australia is twice what it is in the United States. As a concerned Canadian, I’m looking forward to the day when my American friends have the same chances of realizing the American dream as I do.  

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