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The Secret of Why Wealthy Americans Aren't Always the Most Charitable

It's more complicated than just how much money you make -- but where you live is definitely a factor.

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Piff said it’s important to remember that nobody is hardwired to be more generous, and that various social factors must be recognized to understand how people give.

“It’s not the case that wealthy people are necessarily bad apples. It’s that the situations that wealth often seems to give rise to can be pernicious or can have these social costs,” he said. “So if wealth affords you the ability to live in this big house surrounded by other big houses, occupied by people who are similarly wealthy, in terms of charity, in terms of compassion, there’s a cost there.”

Piff said that although we can’t necessarily get those with higher incomes to live in neighborhoods that are more economically diverse, there are simple interventions we can make in terms of exposing people to the needs of others and reminding them that people are suffering. He said that telling people about the benefits of cooperation and egalitarianism “can have a huge affect on levels of giving, levels of kindness, and altruism.”

Still, the Chronicle’s study reiterates the fact that our economic system — which rests on the belief that the few, who profit off of the lives of everyone else, will know how to invest their profit in a way that benefits the rest of us — is flawed. In a society where money is power and power is addictive, the affluent have little motivation to share their wealth. And though some wealthy people, especially those who come in contact with people suffering financially, may choose to give back out of empathy, guilt or to simply feel better about themselves, it’s clear that a small portion of their discretionary income is not enough.

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. 

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