Saturday, July 23, 2011

Charitable giving and childlessness

            The aging of the population is one of the most discussed trends in American demographics.  Less discussed, but just as striking, is a strong increase in childlessness among those nearing retirement age.  The U.S. Census reports that childlessness among women age 40-44 nearly doubled from 10.1% in 1980 to 19% in 2000.  When combined, these two trends predict a dramatic rise in childless older Americans.  How might this demographic shift affect philanthropy?  Several recent academic studies looked specifically at the issue of philanthropy among childless older adults.
Professor Frank Adloff of the Free University of Berlin studied childless donors in Germany.  As a group, childless people in Germany gave less to charitable organizations.  However, this may be due to the lower average age of those without children.  Marco Albertini of the University of Bologna and Martin Kohli of the European University Institute also looked at giving by childless individuals.  Their study of ten European nations found that the difference in current giving among childless individuals disappeared when looking only those over age 50.

Further, specific forms of philanthropy were much more common among older childless donors.  For example, Professor Adloff noted that people who established private foundations were more than 3 times as likely to be childless as the general population.  The desire to provide something permanent to future generations was particularly compelling for these donors.   Childless donors were significantly more likely to list “giving to posterity” as an important motivator for establishing their private foundation.

            U.S. studies have shown a similar tendency for childless donors to make charitable estate gifts.  This is not surprising.  Children and grandchildren are natural recipients of bequests.  In their absence, other beneficiaries – such as nonprofit organizations – may become more attractive.

            In a nationally representative study of those over age 50 in the U.S., childless people were more than four times as likely to report having a charitable estate plan (19.1% v. 4.1%).  Further, childless individuals reporting a charitable estate plan were more likely than those with children to actually generate a charitable transfer after death.  In a related national study, Russell James (Texas Tech University), Mitzi Lauderdale (Texas Tech University), and Cliff Robb (University of Alabama) tracked changes in the propensity to make charitable estate plans from 1996 to 2006.  During this time, the likelihood of reporting a charitable estate plan increased from 3.86% to 5.46% for those aged 55-64.  This represents a significant increase in charitable estate planning within this age group.  The researchers found that increased childlessness was the main factor behind the change.  In other words, the main reason why charitable estate planning increased from 1996 to 2006 was the increasing proportion of childless people within the age group. 

            These research findings all point to future growth in charitable estate planning.  The increase in the size of the older population should drive much of this growth.  But, due to increased childlessness, charitable estate planning should grow even faster than the population of older adults.

References: Ageing & Society (2009) 29, 1185–1205 & 1261-1274; Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning, (2009), 20, 3-14;

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