We affirm that ‘giving’ people make better communities. Their willingness to react to the needs and interests of others brings communities together, building positive relationships and enabling people to work together more effectively.
However, our current measures of welfare barely recognize these relational assets, focusing instead on individualistic indicators such as how good I feel or how much wealth I have.
We should therefore start asking ourselves what we give as well as what we get. The willing transfer of time and money between persons and across social boundaries is an indicator of social cohesion we do well to consider.
This 100 word thesis draws from PhD research into the link between giving behaviours and a healthy social environment (Zischka 2016, University of Reading, department of Economics in collaboration with Human Geography). Whether or not a person ‘gives’ provides us insight into the character of that person’s informal relationships. The relationship itself may be hard to unravel, but the resources flowing as a result of it are easier to measure. Who people give to is also important, since this reveals how far a person’s prosocial network extends - whether people only care about those in their own close social circle, or whether their concern is generalised.
Giving relationships matter: Within Britain, areas in which a high percentage of people ‘give’ are found to be more trusting, less deprived, and less impacted by crime. Giving people were not only better off in all these ways than non-givers; their social infrastructure also improves over time relative to that of non-givers. It turns out that ‘giving’ predicts the health of social infrastructures better than incomes do. For example, in Britain, people are found to be more trusting when in the lowest income decile but giving, than they are in the highest income decile but not giving.
As regards cause and effect, an interaction is evident between the individual inclination to give and the nature of the wider social environment. On one side, there is plenty of evidence that a positive social environment (reflected in trust) stimulates giving behaviours. However individuals also have the capacity to also act for the good or bad of others independently of trust. Choosing to give in spite of the social environment rather than because of it alters the wider social environment in some small way, and influences the choices that other people make too. Thus through a process of response and counter-response, the welfare of the whole community can be influenced by giving.