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What encourages charitable giving and philanthropy?



In recent years, increasing public attention has been paid to voluntary action, civic engagement and philanthropy. It is in this framework that the growing numbers of childless older people are regarded as a valuable source of charitable giving. In fact, by giving to philanthropic foundations – instead of consuming their wealth or leaving inheritances – childless donors may develop into pioneers in the field of post-familial civic engagement. The article explores the circumstances under which childless older people adopt this behaviour in both Germany and the United States of America. It is found that making large donations or setting up philanthropic foundations is still an elite phenomenon, but on the other hand that establishing a foundation is attractive for childless people, both as a means of ensuring that one's name lives on, and as a way of organising bequests. Educational level, ill-health, social capital and religiosity all positively reinforce the inclination of childless people to transfer resources to charities. It is also shown that the institutional framework or organised fundraising has a large role in fostering charitable giving among the childless. The framework of charity organisations and fund raising in the country of residence plays an important role in determining the expansion and democratisation of charitable giving.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Frank Adloff, John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Section of Sociology, Free University Berlin, Lansstraße 7-9, 14195 Berlin, Germany. E-mail:


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