Northwestern University researchers conducted face-to-face and telephone interviews with a random sample of 104 Chicago-area households with a median wealth of $7.5 million. The pilot study found the economic elite spend much more of their time, effort and money than the public at-large on charitable endeavors.
Nine in 10 said they took part in at least one volunteer activity and a majority volunteered in four different forums, the researchers said.
Education (65 percent), poverty and the needy (54 percent), youth development (52 percent), culture and the humanities (46 percent) and religious organizations (46 percent) are their most common areas of interest.
The researchers said a typical 1 percenter donates about 4 percent of his or her income to charitable causes. Those who have inherited substantial wealth tend to give more total dollars and a higher proportion of their income to charity than non-inheritors, they said. One in five created a philanthropic family foundation.
The researchers found that compared with less affluent Americans, the top 1 percent are more likely to reach out to a federal official, tend to favor free markets and private philanthropy, view the federal budget deficit as the country's most pressing problem, and are more active in politics.
Fay Lomax Cook, professor in Northwestern's School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern political scientist Benjamin I. Page, Institute for Policy Research researcher Rachel Moskowitz and a team of researchers, call their study, "Wealthy Americans, Philanthropy and the Common Good," the first representative, systematic effort to survey the political and social opinions of the 1 percent.
"Our goal is to replace the rhetoric with facts," Cook, the study's co-author, said in a release.
Page said the findings, "to the surprise of some members of the research team," suggest "most members of the 1 percent are concerned about the common good, not just about their own narrow self-interests."
"In some important cases, however, their beliefs about how to achieve the common good differ markedly from what other citizens believe," Page said.