In the past we’ve looked at which countries and regions are the happiest, using a variety of indicators, including statistically-backed factors like life expectancy and literacy, perspectives on social progress and/or economics, as well as self-reported feelings.
But what about what individuals do to improve the lives of others?
The latest World Giving Index, a study by the London-based Charity Aid Foundation (CAF) measuring generous behavior in 135 states, ranks Myanmar (Burma) as the world’s most charitable country in terms of donating money. Myanmar is also ranked first, tied with the United States, in overall giving behavior for 2014, based on data gathered in 2013.
The CAF has looked at data from the years 2009 – 2013, tallying percentages among the surveyed concerning how many donated money, volunteered time and helped a stranger during a one-month period before being interviewed. In 2013, 91 percent of Myanmar’s adult population donated money, while 51 percent volunteered time and 49 percent helped a stranger. The overall World Giving Index score for both Myanmar and the United States was 64 percent.
In 2014, more people around the world donated to charitable causes when compared to the previous year — 31.5 vs. 28.3 percent. At the same time, those who volunteered fell from 21.3 to 21.0 percent.
Generosity on the rise in Asian countries
— CAFIndia (@CAFIndia_tweets) November 11, 2015
Among the world’s top 20 most giving nations in the 2014 rankings, 7 are from the Asia Pacific region: Myanmar (1); New Zealand (5); Australia (6); Malaysia (7); Sri Lanka (9); Bhutan (11); and Indonesia (13); with one Western Asian nation, Iran, coming in at 19.
Asia has seen the largest positive increase in giving during the last year (4 points) when compared with the continent’s average over 5 years, with Southeastern Asia — Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, in this case — showing the strongest positive trend and an overall score of 44 percent.
Malaysia’s generosity improved the most in the last year of the study, with an increase of 21 points over its five-year average (55 vs. 34 percent).
Data was also strong for the only two counties surveyed in Oceania: Australia and New Zealand. An overall score of 57 percent shows that giving is strong Down Under.
Analyzing the results: What do they mean?
The index shows high levels of generosity in countries facing turmoil – reflecting a pattern of giving in post-conflict nations as people help others through the most difficult of times. And it shows people’s innate desire to help others, even in nations which do not have anything like the standard of living enjoyed in the West. —Dr. John Low, Chief Executive, Charities Aid Foundation
One might expect high levels of charitable behavior in secure and affluent countries, where people have more disposable income, more time to volunteer and there is less risk involved when helping strangers. While individual wealth might at least partially explain the high ranking of countries like the United States (1), Canada (3) and New Zealand (5), it does not when it comes to poverty-stricken societies like those in Myanmar (1), Sri Lanka (9) or Bhutan (11).
The study’s findings give the practice of charity in Buddhism much of the credit. Each of the three poor Asian countries in the paragraph above have strong Buddhist traditions, including a high number of monks who receive monetary support from ordinary laypersons. Myanmar, where Theravada Buddhism is prevalent, has an estimated 500,000 monks. Theravada Buddhism also emphasizes charity in the context of religious observance.
Another take on why people give
According to the index, people in the United States are most likely to help strangers, with 79 percent. In 2011 Liberia, which was not surveyed for the latest index, led this category with 81 percent. The reasons why these very different countries performed so well is not examined in the report, but it could be both cultural and socio-political.
Countries in which it is perceived that neither official organizations nor state welfare programs adequately assist those in need may have stronger traditions of individuals helping other individuals, as well as charitable acts organized by religious groups. Compare this to what happens within comprehensive welfare states, in which what is considered “charity” in some countries is considered a human right to be covered by society as a whole or by the state.
Furthermore, cultures in which people communicate more with each other, especially with strangers, may encourage more giving between individuals. Simply put, if you get to know people, you are more likely to empathize with their situations.
Read the entire World Giving Index 2014: A global view of giving trends here (in PDF).
— JustGiving APAC (@JustGivingAPAC) November 17, 2015