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Research Correlates Giving with Living

Posted on March 4, 2015 by Mark Neithercut

Anyone who has donated his or her time or money will tell you: it feels good to give. New research also indicates that a charitable lifestyle not only makes people happier, but physically healthier, too.

A recent Wall Street Journal article profiles research findings that found that donating to charity may improve a giver’s physical and emotional wellbeing. This same study also suggests a link between increases in charitable tax subsidies and improvements in people’s perceptions of their own health, which is recognized as an indicator of future healthcare use and mortality rates.

The research hypothesis was built around published medical and public policy research indicating that giving to others improves health and that tax subsidies significantly increase charitable giving. Researcher Baris K. Yörük, an associate professor of economics at the University at Albany-SUNY, overlaid those ideas and set out to explore whether increasing tax subsidies positively affects health.

The Journal spoke with Yörük about his findings, which include:

  • The probability of reporting better health goes up as the tax subsidy for charitable giving increases. For example, a 1-percent increase in a tax subsidy for charitable giving is associated with a 0.1-percent increase in the study’s health index. The study also found a positive relationship between charitable giving and self-reported health status – as the amount of the donation increases, health status improves in proportion.
  • Tax subsidies have a statistically significant impact on lung disease, arthritis and emotional disorders. Yörük concedes that interpreting why this is true on a disease-by-disease basis is a challenge – medical literature supports the positive impact of giving on psychological wellbeing, but the reason for the positive impact on other physical diseases is less clear. The paper also shows that tax subsidies have a positive effect on high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, heart attack and obesity, but the magnitude of these effects is small and not statistically significant.

Yörük’s research is not the first to connect positive health outcomes from acts of giving. Dr. Stephen Post has conducted multiple studies into the giving-living connection, the results of which are shared in his book, “Why Good Things Happen to Good People.” His research includes a fifty-year study showing that people who give during their high school years have better lifelong physical and mental health. He also references additional studies showing that older people who give live longer than those who don’t, and that helping others has been shown to bring health benefits to those with chronic illness, including HIV, multiple sclerosis, and heart problems.

If you already believe that philanthropic activity is good for your soul, you can take additional comfort in knowing that it just might be good for your body, too.