Understanding the Determinants of Religious Giving

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Wed, 01/01/1992

Ten percent of a congregation often provide more than half its financial support, while another 20 percent give little or nothing, raising the question of why religious activity seems to be worth more to some than to others. Religious leaders need better information about what causes wide variations in financial support, and Iannaccone focused on the individual's decision to support a church or synagogue. Using data sets which included the General Social Survey and the Lilly Endowment-funded Glenmary Church Membership Survey, this project identified which congregations and denominations were able to obtain high levels of membership support. The results of this study were published in "Why Strict Churches are Strong." Iannaccone found that high rates of giving relate closely to other forms of religious participation, and that certain types of denominations (Christian and Jewish) maintain significantly higher rates of participation than others. The consequences of higher rates of giving, together with higher rates of church attendance are explored in a co- authored paper titled, "Religious Resources and Church Growth." The authors argue that higher rates of contributions and attendance lead to higher rates of church growth. Why giving is so skewed -- 20% of the membership providing as much as 80% of a church's financial support -- is explored in, "Skewness Explained: A Rational Choice Model of Religious Giving." The author theorizes that individuals allocate their time and money resources in order to maximize the utility derived from the production of household commodities, and he argues that utility maximizing decisions result in skewed giving patterns. (SM)