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How Does Charitable Giving Respond to Incentives and Income? Dynamic Panel Estimates Accounting for Predictable Changes in Taxation

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  • Jon Bakija
  • Bradley Heim

Abstract

We estimate the elasticity of charitable giving with respect to its price and after-tax income using a panel of over 550,000 disproportionately high-income tax returns spanning the years 1979 through 2005. Improvements relative to the previous literature include: using state tax variation to help identify our model while controlling for both individual- and time-specific unobserved heterogeneity; carefully dealing with expectations; allowing people at different income levels to have different degrees responsiveness to taxation and different time paths of unobservable influences on giving; and using a measure of charitable giving that more closely approximates current donations. To address the omitted variable bias that would otherwise arise from failing to control for unobservable expectations of future prices and future incomes, we use predictable changes in future federal and state marginal tax rates and tax liabilities, arising from their pre-announced and phased-in nature, as instruments for future changes in prices and income. Our estimate of the elasticity of giving with respect to a persistent price change for the full sample is about -0.7; this elasticity is generally larger when the sample is limited to high-income people and we control for time-varying unobservable influences on charity in a flexible fashion. We find some evidence, particularly among very high-income people, of re-timing giving in response to expected future changes in price, but this finding is sensitive to the source of identification for the price effects. Our estimates are broadly consistent the permanent income hypothesis. Expenditures on charitable giving are estimated to respond more strongly to persistent changes in income than to transitory fluctuations in income. Moreover, we find evidence in some specifications that people will increase their charitable giving now in response to a predictable reduction in future tax liability arising from tax reform.

Suggested Citation

  • Jon Bakija & Bradley Heim, 2008. "How Does Charitable Giving Respond to Incentives and Income? Dynamic Panel Estimates Accounting for Predictable Changes in Taxation," NBER Working Papers 14237, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14237
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Auten, Gerald E. & Cilke, James M. & Randolph, William C., 1992. "The Effects of Tax Reform on Charitable Contributions," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 45(3), pages 267-90, September.
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    5. Zoran Ivković & James Poterba & Scott Weisbenner, 2005. "Tax-Motivated Trading by Individual Investors," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(5), pages 1605-1630, December.
    6. Dean Karlan & John A. List, 2007. "Does Price Matter in Charitable Giving? Evidence from a Large-Scale Natural Field Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(5), pages 1774-1793, December.
    7. Saez, Emmanuel, 2004. "The optimal treatment of tax expenditures," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(12), pages 2657-2684, December.
    8. Barrett, Kevin S. & McGuirk, Anya M. & Steinberg, Richard S., 1997. "Further Evidence on the Dynamic Impact of Taxes on Charitable Giving," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 50(2), pages 321-334, June.
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    18. Charles T. Clotfelter, 1985. "Federal Tax Policy and Charitable Giving," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number clot85-1.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kimberley Scharf & Sarah Smith, 2015. "The price elasticity of charitable giving: does the form of tax relief matter?," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 22(2), pages 330-352, April.
    2. Michael Rushton, 2008. "Who pays? Who benefits? Who decides?," Journal of Cultural Economics, Springer;The Association for Cultural Economics International, vol. 32(4), pages 293-300, December.
    3. Chau Do & Irina Paley, 2012. "Altruism from the house: the impact of home equity on charitable giving," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 10(3), pages 375-393, September.
    4. Bakija, Jon & Heim, Bradley T., 2011. "How Does Charitable Giving Respond to Incentives and Income? New Estimates From Panel Data," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 64(2), pages 615-650, June.
    5. Scharf, Kimberley, 2010. "Public Funding of Charities and Competitive Charity Selection," CEPR Discussion Papers 7937, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. Gabrielle Fack & Camille Landais, 2010. "Are Tax Incentives for Charitable Giving Efficient? Evidence from France," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 117-141, May.
    7. Emmanuel Saez & Joel Slemrod & Seth H. Giertz, 2012. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income with Respect to Marginal Tax Rates: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(1), pages 3-50, March.
    8. Blumenthal, Marsha & Kalambokidis, Laura & Turk, Alex, 2012. "Subsidizing Charitable Contributions With a Match Instead of a Deduction: What Happens to Donations and Compliance?," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 65(1), pages 91-116, March.
    9. repec:clh:resear:v:5:y:2012:i:34 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Steinberg, Richard & Zhang, Ye & Brown, Eleanor & Rooney, Patrick, 2010. "Earned, owned, or transferred: are donations sensitive to the composition of income and wealth?," MPRA Paper 30082, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    11. Scharf, Kimberley & Smith, Sarah L., 2010. "Rational Inattention to Subsidies for Charitable Contributions," CEPR Discussion Papers 7760, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies
    • H31 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - Household

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