Saturday, January 05, 2008

Are Jews altruistic in a particularistic or universalistic way? I have heard both claims. The General Social Survey asked close to 2,700 Americans about their religious affiliation and a number of questions about giving help to strangers. Here are the percentages:

Percent who have done it at least once in the past year

Given directions to a stranger
Protestant 87.1
Catholic 88.3
Jewish 92.7
None 90.4

Offered a seat to a stranger
Protestant 43.9
Catholic 46.0
Jewish 59.5
None 50.4

Carried a stranger's belongings
Protestant 44.4
Catholic 49.2
Jewish 42.9
None 51.2

Allowed a stranger to go ahead in line
Protestant 88.7
Catholic 87.0
Jewish 87.8
None 87.3

Given money to a homeless person
Protestant 62.4
Catholic 65.4
Jewish 70.7
None 70.9

Donated blood
Protestant 15.6
Catholic 17.5
Jewish 11.9
None 16.5

There is no evidence that Jews are much different than anyone else. Where their numbers are a little higher, they probably have the advantage of more opportunities to help because of living in urban areas in high numbers. For an altruistic behavior that requires more effort and is less opportunistic, like giving blood, Jews fall behind a bit.

And notice how people with no religion are just as altruistic as those claiming one--maybe more so.


  1. Anonymous12:04 PM

    Sample size? the total number of Jews in the sample is between 54 and 81 assuming a 2-3% percent range. Multiple tests of altruism help ameliorate the low numbers in the sample, but if the results did show lack of altruism...sample size would be the first critique.

  2. Location bias? The "offered a seat to a stranger" category applies mostly to people who use mass transit, and transit use is most frequent among people living in larger urban areas. I'm fairly sure that Jews are more likely than Catholics or Protestants to live in larger urban areas.

    Much the same applies to the "given money to a homeless person" question.

  3. Anonymous5:02 PM

    Honesty in responses? Can we trust questions like this to elicit honest answers? Yeah, yeah, I know..........Im a cynic. Everybody wants to "admit" that they have helped grandma across the street, but since Im almost never a pedestrian, the chance to do so hasn't come up.


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