For the fifth year running, the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) has released its annual World Giving Index, a study that investigates and ranks the charitable behavior of different countries around the world.
Sharing the top place in their 2014 list is Burma (Myanmar) and the United States, closely followed by Canada, Ireland and New Zealand.
The British-based foundation, which works to facilitate and encourage donations to charity, uses its own system to come up with its rankings, using information from Gallup’s World View World Poll about how much people help strangers, how much money they donate and how much time they spend volunteering.
The use of three different factors may help to explain the diverse nature of the list. While the presence of the United States, the country with the highest Gross Domestic Product in the world, at the top of the list may seem somewhat logical, American readers might be surprised to see they share that top spot with Burma, a relatively poor country that only emerged from a decades-long dictatorship in recent years.
However, CAF's report notes that Burma's high position is largely due to specific aspects of Burma's religious makeup and culture:
Whilst America’s strong performance across all forms of giving contributes to its top ranking, Myanmar’s position is driven primarily by an incredibly high proportion of people donating money (91%). This reflects the strong Theravada Buddhist community within Myanmar, with its estimated 500,000 monks (the highest proportion of monks to population of any Buddhist country) receiving support from lay devotees. Indeed, the practice of charitable giving or dana is integral to religious observance amongst Theravada Buddhists, with it being one of the key paths to earning good merit. The position of Myanmar reminds us how important each country’s distinctive culture is in the predilection of its people to be charitable.
The U.S. lags behind here, only ninth in the rankings of amount of people donating money, though it ranked high in the two other categories. It should be noted that the donating money score refers only to the percentage of people who gave money in the last month, and not the sum total of the amount given, which may hinder countries with large individual donors.
The report also notes that global events play a major role. For example, look at Malaysia, another high entry:
Malaysia has experienced a significant improvement across all three ways of giving, resulting in a 26 percentage point increase in its World Giving Index and a move from seventy-first place to seventh. This behavioral change is likely to reflect the humanitarian effort undertaken following Typhoon Haiyan in the neighboring Philippine archipelago, and is in line with giving uplifts recorded following other natural disasters in China and Japan.