When scholars of philanthropy plot Americans’ incomes against their charitable contributions, many discover a U lurking in their data (see the solid line on the graph below). The arms of the U show that low- and high-income Americans give a greater percentage of their incomes to charity, and the trough of the U shows that middle-income Americans donate a lower percentage. “When people see this U-shaped giving profile, they say that low-income and high-income people are generous, but …

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