The least religious states in the US also tend to give the least money to charity, a new study suggests.
The study, published yesterday by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, found that residents in states where religious participation is higher than the rest of the nation, particularly in the South, gave the greatest percentage of their discretionary income to charity.
The findings confirm earlier research which linked higher rates of charitable giving and rates of voluntary service in the community to higher rates of religious involvement.
States in the north east of the US, which tend to have lower religious participation, were the least generous to charities, with the six New England states filling the last six slots among the 50 states.
Churches are among the organisations counted as charities by the study, and some states in the Northeast rank in the top 10 when religious giving is not counted. But their overall giving is less.
The most generous state was Utah, where residents gave 10.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity. Next were Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina. The least generous was New Hampshire, at 2.5 percent, followed by Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
The study found that in the north eastern states, including New England, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, people gave 4.1 percent of their discretionary income to charity. The percentage was 5.2 percent in the Southern states, a region from Texas east to Delaware and Florida, and including most of the so-called Bible Belt.
The study was based on Internal Revenue Service records of people who itemised deductions in 2008, the most recent year statistics were available. The data allowed researchers to detail charitable giving down to the local postal code.
To ensure that states with differing costs of living were judged by the same standard, researchers calculated each state's median discretionary income — the money remaining per household after variable but essential costs such as housing, child care and food are paid for. They then looked at the percentage of discretionary income that the typical household in each state gave to charity.
The study also found that people who earned $200,000 per year gave a greater percentage to charity when they live in areas with fewer people who are as wealthy as they are and people who earned between $50,000 and $75,000 annually gave a higher percentage of their discretionary income to charity (7.6 percent) than those who make $100,000 or more.
The study also found that state policies that promote giving can make a significant difference. At least 13 states now offer special tax benefits to charity donors. In Arizona, charities are reaping more than $100-million annually from a series of tax credits adopted in recent years.