Look who's holding back the most as donations dip

As the economy cools down, so does our tendency to donate to good causes. That's hardly a shock, though it does make life tougher for charities.

As the economy cools down, so does our tendency to donate to good causes. That's hardly a shock, though it does make life tougher for charities.

However, recent figures highlight something that may be more surprising. High-income earners tend to donate the most in dollar terms, but less as a share of their income.

Charitable giving has slowed markedly in the past year, according to a recent survey based on National Australia Bank's (NAB) network of debit and credit card terminals.

The total amount given to charitable institutions grew by just 2.6 per cent in the year to February, compared with 8.3 per cent for the previous 12 months.

On average, donors gave $291 in the year to February, down from $294 a year earlier.

The likely reasons for the trend are a slowdown in national income - which translates into smaller pay rises - and a weak jobs market.

The NAB economists also believe charitable giving could be affected by households spending a higher share of their pay on services, such as holidays or eating out. This non-essential spending may have displaced some other "discretionary" spending such as donations to charities, they say.

But aside from these economy-wide trends, who are the biggest givers?

This is where things get interesting.

In dollar terms, people who donated the most were most likely to live in wealthy areas. Among the top-10 postcodes for total donations were comfortable suburbs such as Killara and Vaucluse in Sydney, and Albert Park in Melbourne.

The average taxable income among these 10 areas was $117,379 - 2½ times the national average taxable income of $46,646.

When measured as a share of income, however, the most generous postcodes were a vastly different bunch. Killara, Vaucluse and Albert Park did not make the top 10.

Top of the list was Gungahlin, in suburban Canberra, where people donated 0.3 per cent of their pay.

The average taxable income among the postcodes that donated the biggest share of their pay was $67,009.

This is about 40 per cent less than the incomes of the biggest-donating areas in raw dollar terms.

And, interestingly, studies have found some similar patterns overseas.

Research in the US recently came to an even more stark conclusion - that the richest fifth of the country donated 1.3 per cent of their income while the poorest donated 3.2 per cent.

Just why this happens is the subject of debate. But some researchers think it may be because the relatively wealthy are more isolated from people who are struggling, while those with relatively less money have more direct exposure to those who are going without.

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