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Giving Behaviours and Social Cohesion

How People Who ‘Give’ Make Better Communities

Lorna Zischka

‘Giving’ time and money to the community indicates the existence of relationships that draw people together, and ‘who people give to’ indicates how inclusive these relational networks are. Using UK data for the analysis, Zischka argues that a person’s willingness to ‘give' is not only influenced by social cohesion; it also helps to generate social cohesion. For thriving communities, we therefore need to consider our ‘giving’ as well as our ‘getting’.
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Lorna Zischka

Monitoring the things that matter helps us to steer the right course for ourselves. It can be seen that it takes greater and greater doses of money to make any difference to wellbeing once people have enoughresources to cover their basic needs, whereas steady inputs into the quality of interpersonal relationships can have an ongoing impact on quality of life. Positive interpersonal relationships not only feel good, they also help us get things done. There is enormous value therefore in understanding and targeting relationships, recognizing what enriches them and guarding against conditions that damage them. To do this, we need a way of monitoring relational quality – a challenge undertaken in the chapters that follow.

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Lorna Zischka

Interpersonal relationships are described using the social capital conceptual framework. Problems encountered with defining and measuring social capital are outlined; problems which haveprevented this important factor from gettingmuch attention in policy choice. Whilst social capital is often defined in terms of trust-building social norms and networks, this chapter makes the case that ‘personal prosocial attitudes’ are important too. It goes on to propose thatalthough relationships are complex, the impact they have on the way a person allocates his or herresources are easier to measure. The resource transfers that are specific to civic (informal) sectordrivers are giving flows. The giving of time and money is not carried out for a prearranged return,and is thereforeparticularly dependent on the social norms, social networks and personal attitudes we are interested in identifying. Thus ‘giving’ acts as a measurable barometer of howprosocial or antisocial informal relations are.

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Lorna Zischka

Giving behaviours that are easy to identify in surveys include: having volunteered, having donated to charity and having hosted someone for food or drink in your home. This small selection represents a much wider range of prosocial behaviours, since the whole range depends on pretty much the same drivers. Moreover, the drivers of giving are found to overlap closely with the three elements of relationships: social networks, social norms and personal attitudes. This means that by monitoring giving, we may well learn something about the prosocial character of informal relationships. A hypothesis is put forward that individual prosocial inclination, identifiable in giving behaviours, is partly influenced by, and partly influences the wider social environment. Through an interactive process of response and counter-response between individuals and their wider social environment, social cohesion with all of its associated quality-of-life benefits may incrementally change.

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Lorna Zischka

Evidence for the links between ‘giving’ and ‘welfare’ is presented using British databases. Welfare indicators include personal life-satisfaction and income, but also some more communal indicators of welfare, which include trust in neighbours, local crime statistics and community deprivation. People who give (that is, people who are part of prosocial networks) are associated with more desirable outcomes both personally and within their community. Although income generation remains of importance (money pays for the things that improve life), giving behaviours are found to shed light on an aspect of welfare that monetary indicators do not necessarily capture. The chapter goes on to discuss which aspects of giving are most important to measure, and also how different giving behaviours can be aggregated onto a single scale.

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Lorna Zischka

The drivers of giving were analysed using data from the Citizenship Survey of England and Wales. It was found, as expected, that motivations to give depended partly on trust-enhancing conditions within the wider social environment. However, it also revealed a propensity to give, compatible with an attitudinal component, which was able to stimulate giving even when the wider social environment was unfavourable and the giver’s trust consequently low. This finding suggests that individual giving behaviours are not entirely a by-product of trust-enhancing conditions, even though trust is usually expected to sustain prosocial inclination. The finding that individuals also have a limited but significant capacity for prosocial action that is independent of their trust in others suggests how it is possible for individuals to also be agents of change within their environment.

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Lorna Zischka

This chapter affirms that an individual’s decision to ‘give’ has a significant impact on the social environment. The analysis is based on the British Household Panel Survey (data collected over time), which allows us to observe how ‘giving’ at the start of a period leads to changes in the way the social environment is rated over time. Causality is found to run both ways between giving and the social environment but sequentially, over time. Just as a cohesive social environment impacts an individual propensity to give in one time period, so that individual propensity to give goes on to influence the social environment ratings in the next time period.

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Lorna Zischka

A lab experiment was run to show how closely giving behaviours reflect the social environment. Two groups of people completed the same series of tasks, but one group underwent those tasks in a closer relational environment and one in a more distant relational environment. At point of payment and exit from the experiment, all participants were provided with the option to give to charity. The experiment revealed that making people feel more connected with others directly increased their willingness to give to a third party: how people were treated affected how they went on to treat others. Extra pay did not have the same effect however; it did not stimulate giving independently of the sense of connection.

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Lorna Zischka

The prosocial qualities of the civic sector can be evaluated by ‘giving’ flows. Using UK data, this book affirms that a person’s willingness to give is not only influenced by social cohesion, it also helps to generate social cohesion. Reacting to the needs and interests of others brings communities together, building positive relationships and enabling people to work together more effectively. Most of our welfare measures fail to capture these relational assets, focusing instead on individualistic indicators such as ‘how good I feel’ or ‘how much money I have’, but for thriving communities we need to ask ourselves what we give as well as what we get. We need to affirm behaviours which draw people together, adjusting policy as we learn which interventions foster and which depress the inclination to give.