Government assistance, religiosity and charitable giving: comparing Muslim and non-Muslim families in China

Authors: Lili Wang1 and Peiyao Li1
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  • 1 Arizona State University, , USA
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This article examines whether religiosity moderates the influence of government assistance use on the charitable giving of Muslim and non-Muslim families in China. Using data from the 2016 China Family Panel Studies survey, the article finds that Muslims are as equally likely as non-Muslims to donate to charity, but that Muslim donors, on average, donate more than their counterparts. Additionally, Muslim donors and donors of other religions increase the amount of their giving when they receive more government assistance, while non-religious donors reduce their giving. Furthermore, as the level of government assistance increases, the donation amount grows at a much higher rate among Muslim donors than among donors of other religions. The theoretical contributions of the study and avenues for future research are discussed.

Abstract

This article examines whether religiosity moderates the influence of government assistance use on the charitable giving of Muslim and non-Muslim families in China. Using data from the 2016 China Family Panel Studies survey, the article finds that Muslims are as equally likely as non-Muslims to donate to charity, but that Muslim donors, on average, donate more than their counterparts. Additionally, Muslim donors and donors of other religions increase the amount of their giving when they receive more government assistance, while non-religious donors reduce their giving. Furthermore, as the level of government assistance increases, the donation amount grows at a much higher rate among Muslim donors than among donors of other religions. The theoretical contributions of the study and avenues for future research are discussed.

Introduction

Charitable giving is a prosocial behaviour shaped by numerous micro-level factors, such as individuals’ religiosity (Bekkers and Wiepking, 2011), socioeconomic characteristics (Bekkers and Wiepking, 2011; Wiepking and Bekkers, 2012), social capital (Brown and Ferris, 2007; Wang and Graddy, 2008) and prosocial disposition (Bekkers, 2004; Einolf, 2008), as well as macro-level factors, such as ethnic diversity (Andreoni et al, 2016) and tax laws (Clotfelter, 1985). The literature on religious philanthropy shows that religious affiliation, religious involvement, religious preference and religious belief tend to be positively related to charitable giving, especially religious giving (Bekkers and Wiepking, 2011). Additionally, scholars find that people of different religious groups or denominations give differently (Berger, 2006; Carabain and Bekkers, 2011). At the macro level, studies have demonstrated the potential influence of public policy, such as tax incentives, on charitable giving (Clotfelter, 1985). Recently, there is a growing scholarly interest in the relationship between government welfare policy, particularly public assistance use, and charitable giving in China and the United States (US). Brooks (2002) and Yang et al (2021) found that increased public assistance is associated with a decrease in charitable giving, while Peck and Guo (2015) found that neither public assistance receipt nor the amount of public assistance income affects charitable giving in the US. In addition, Yang et al (2021) found no statistically significant relationship between public assistance use and charitable giving in China.

Some scholars argue that public assistance lowers charitable giving because recipients will develop a reliance on the public sector and squash their sense of responsibility to help others through non-governmental means (Brooks, 2002; 2004). Following this argument, religions such as Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism and various Oriental religions, which emphasise a strong obligation to give and to help (Neusner and Chilton, 2005), may mitigate the potential negative impact of public assistance on charitable giving. Although some of the studies (for example, Peck and Guo, 2015; Yang et al, 2021) on the relationship between public assistance and charitable giving have controlled for the potential influence of religiosity on giving, none to our knowledge has examined whether religiosity reshapes the relationship between government assistance and charitable giving. For example, will religious families receiving government assistance be more or less likely to donate than those without government assistance? Will religious families receiving government assistance donate more or less to charities than their non-religious counterparts? Will families following different religions give similarly or differently when they receive government assistance? The answers to these questions are key to advancing our understanding of how providing government assistance to citizens with or without a religion may influence charitable behaviour. Additionally, these studies have only examined whether being a Catholic, a Protestant or a Jew, not a Muslim, may influence charitable giving. While Muslims only account for a relatively small share of the total population in Muslim-minority countries (for example, China and the US), they remain a strong philanthropic force in these countries. Therefore, investigating how government assistance may influence Muslims’ charitable giving and whether the influences are the same as those among non-Muslims, people following other religions and the non-religious will not only increase our knowledge of Muslim philanthropy in Muslim-minority countries, but also inform policy makers on how government assistance may impact the charitable giving of Muslim and non-Muslim families.

China is one of the world’s most populous Muslim-minority countries, with an estimated 28 million Muslims in 2020, or 1.8% of China’s total population (U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, 2016; World Population Review, 2020). Most Chinese Muslims reside in the north-western autonomous regions or provinces of Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai and Xinjiang, an area that borders Central Asia, Mongolia and Tibet. The area is relatively less developed than the eastern and coastal regions of China, and therefore many families there receive government assistance. Islam is one of the five officially recognised religions that have a long tradition of charity in China. With the development of various government assistance programmes, including some specifically to support Muslims, and the growth of Muslim philanthropy in the country, it is critical to understand whether and to what extent government assistance use affects the likelihood and amount of charitable giving, whether Muslims and non-Muslims are similar in their charitable giving decisions, and whether religiosity moderates the association between government assistance and charitable giving.

To address the above research questions, this study uses data from a national representative survey, the 2016 China Family Panel Studies (CFPS) survey, and finds that Muslim families are as equally likely as non-Muslims to donate to charity, but that Muslim donors, on average, donate more than their counterparts. Additionally, Muslim donors and donors of other religions increase the amount of their giving when they receive government assistance, while non-religious donors reduce their giving. Furthermore, as the level of government assistance increases, the donation amount grows at a much higher rate among Muslim donors than among donors of other religions.

The rest of this article proceeds as follows. In the literature review section we first briefly present the context and state of Muslim philanthropy in China, and then review the literature on the relationship between charitable giving and government assistance and religiosity, respectively. We also propose the moderating effect of religiosity on the association between government assistance and charitable giving. Next, we introduce the data used in this study, the study variables and our statistical analysis. After reporting the findings, we discuss the contributions and limitations of the study, and suggest avenues for future research.

Literature review

The context and state of Muslim philanthropy in China

Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Taoism are the five officially recognised religions in China. As early as the seventh century, Islam reached China and has been practised in the country for more than 1,300 years. Like other religions, Islam has strong charitable tendencies and emphasises the integration of charitable work with Islamic principles (Wang, 2017).

In the past few decades, Muslim philanthropy in China has grown significantly thanks to economic growth and wealth accumulation, the philanthropic culture and environment, and government policies supporting the development of religious charitable work. Indeed, since the 1980s, rapid economic growth in China has increased family income, including disposable income, leading to a strong growth of philanthropic capacity. However, economic growth has also enlarged income disparity and increased the needs of social welfare services, particularly in less developed areas, such as the western and inland regions of China, where most Muslims and other minority ethnic communities reside. On the one hand, the Chinese government responds to the needs of social welfare services through various government assistance programmes, such as low-income family support, public health insurance programmes and national retirement systems. On the other hand, it recognises that social organisations, including religious institutions, can help lighten the burden of the state through their charitable work, and has therefore started to promote the development of philanthropy, particularly since the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Policies have been adopted to encourage religious philanthropy. For example, the government issued Opinions on Encouraging and Regulating Religious Circles to Engage in Public Welfare and Charity Activities in 2012, supporting the religious community to carry out charity work in disaster relief, poverty alleviation, elderly care, assisting disabled people, education and other charitable activities suitable for religious believers to play an active role in (China Central Government Portal, 2012). Chinese Muslim communities have been active in providing food, household supplies, medical care and cash to people living in poverty and in need, supporting schools in relation to Muslim students and helping the victims of natural disasters. For example, after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Muslims in Xining, the capital of Qinghai province in western China, donated more than 4.2 million RMB in cash and goods to the disaster area (China Islamic Association, 2012).

Many existing studies of Muslim philanthropy in China have used qualitative methods, such as case studies and ethnographic or historical analysis, to document the influences of Islamic teaching on charitable behaviour in China, the development of Muslim charitable institutions, their roles and activities in Chinese society, their relationship with the government and Muslims’ involvement in charitable work. For example, in a study of Hui Muslims in Central China, Ma (2016) examined the critical role of mosques in Hui Muslims’ lives. He pointed out that two types of Waqf, namely donations from bequests and properties donated by living Muslims, are important long-term and stable sources of income for local mosques. He also noted that although most of Zakah, or religious alms, are distributed to people living in poverty and people who are socially disadvantaged, mosques in China can keep part of the Zakah to cover their normal expenses, especially during times of economic hardship. In Wang’s (2017) research on Islamic charitable organisations in China, he described the charitable work that Muslim institutions engage in, using several case studies, such as the Qinghai Association of Hui Studies, the Qinghai Hui and Salar Relief Work Association, the Muslim Art Academy in Hehuang Basin, the Cultural Exchange Center of the Hui in Qinghai and the Great Eastern Gate Mosque, the largest mosque in Xining, Qinghai Province with 150,000 Muslims attending Friday assembly. While these qualitative studies provide detailed examples of Muslim philanthropy in China, there remains a need for generalisable knowledge on the charitable behaviour of Chinese Muslims.

Recently, scholars have increasingly used quantitative methods to examine Chinese Muslims’ charitable decisions. For example, using an experimental design, Morton et al (2018) investigated the effect of religion on Muslims’ charitable giving to the non-Muslim majority in China. They found that religious thinking had a salient and significant positive effect on Chinese Muslims’ giving decisions towards non-Muslim Han Chinese. However, little quantitative research has examined how macro-level factors (for example, government policy) may influence Chinese Muslims’ charitable decisions and how religiosity may moderate the influence of other factors on Muslim philanthropy. This study advances our understanding of Chinese Muslims’ charitable behaviour using quantitative methods to examine whether and how government assistance and religiosity influence the decision to donate and the amount of charitable giving of Muslim and non-Muslim families in China.

Government assistance and charitable giving

Government assistance is a form of transfer payment that government provides to eligible individuals and/or families. Theoretically speaking, it can have a positive or negative influence on charitable giving. On the one hand, government aid can increase recipients’ disposable income, help them get on their feet and thus increase their financial capacity to donate to charitable causes (Brooks, 2002; Yang et al, 2021). In addition, recipients of government assistance may become generous and give back to society as a response to the help they have received, indicating a serial reciprocity effect of governance assistance (Moody, 2008). On the other hand, government assistance may negatively influence charitable giving as welfare recipients may develop a long-term dependency on government aid, which may defray many prosocial attitudes, including charitable giving, and squash a ‘culture’ of responsibility to help others (Brooks, 2002). Additionally, scholars argue that welfare income or unearned income may shape charitable giving differently from earned income (Brooks, 2004). Brooks (2002) found that a 10% increase in welfare income was associated with a 1.4% decrease in charitable giving, while a 10% increase in earned income was associated with an 8% increase in charitable giving. Furthermore, previous studies suggest that recipients of government assistance may be more likely to donate to families and friends instead of non-profit charities due to physical isolation and limited financial resources (Brooks, 2004). While these theories developed in the western context provide reasonable explanations as to how government assistance may affect charitable giving, one must also consider the cultural and political context to gain a better understanding of the relationship between the two in other countries.

In China, traditional political values, which advocate loyalty, paternalism and political harmony, have a strong impact on trust in the government (Zhai, 2016). People in China tend to trust the government’s ability to provide welfare and social services when needed (Park and Shin, 2006), which can lead to a dependence on the government and lower individuals’ sense of responsibility to help others through non-governmental means (that is, a weak charitable sector). Especially for government assistance recipients, the experience of getting support from the Chinese government can enhance their trust in the capability of government to provide services, and thus lowers their perceived need to make a charitable donation.

The Chinese government provides both income-related and non-income-related assistance to families. Dibao and Wubao are the two main programmes to help low-income families. China’s largest government assistance programme, Dibao, or the Minimum Living Standard Scheme, provides monthly or quarterly benefits to families whose income is lower than the official standard for living. It was first introduced in 1993 and later expanded to all urban areas in 1999; it was finally implemented nationwide by adding rural Dibao in 2007 to reduce the urban–rural gap (Gao, 2017; Yang et al, 2021). In 2019, there were 43.2 million Dibao recipients, accounting for 3.1% of the total population of China (Yang et al, 2021). In addition to Dibao, Wubao is also an important programme that provides a safety net in five main areas – food, clothing, housing, medical care and burial expenses – for people who are not able to work or have no income and no statutory obligors (The State Council of the People’s Republic of China, 2006). The government has also established non-income-related assistance programmes to advance national strategies or support natural disaster victims and the families of those who died or were injured in the line of duty. On example is the Grain for Green Project, which provides government assistance to farmers who turn their farmland back to forests and pastures in order to accomplish the national strategy of restoring ecological balance (The State Council of the People’s Republic of China, 2002). Assistance for purchasing agriculture machinery is another project that the Chinese government is implementing to help people in rural areas improve their productivity and change the agriculture growth model (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 2015). Programme eligibility is based not on family income, but on the action of buying agriculture machinery. Additionally, the Chinese government provides special assistance to Muslim groups to improve their living standards. For example, in response to the high price of halal food and the inability of working units to provide halal meals, Jiangsu Province provides a monthly food subsidy to Hui and other minority groups that are mainly Muslim (The People’s Government of Jiangsu Province, 2013).

Given the broad scale of the government assistance programme in China, and Chinese culture’s emphasis on family and social connection, government assistance recipients may perceive less responsibility or need to donate to formal charities even though they may give to family and friends. Therefore, we posit:

Hypothesis 1a:Families receiving government assistance are less likely to donate to charity.
Hypothesis 1b:Families receiving more government assistance will donate less to charity.

Religiosity and charitable giving

The extant literature shows that religious people tend to be more generous than non-believers when it comes to giving to charity (Bekkers and Wiepking, 2011). Religion is a powerful philanthropic motivator as it teaches people to practise benevolence or charitable giving, and to care about disadvantaged people. Islam emphasises the integration of charitable work with Islamic principles and encourages various forms of giving, such as Zakat, Waqf and Sadaqah. Zakat, or obligatory almsgiving, is the most common form of philanthropy in the Chinese Muslim community. As one of the five pillars of Islam, Zakat requires an adult Muslim or a Muslim household to give 10% of agricultural harvests and one-40th of commercial gains to the Muslim community if they meet the criteria for wealth (Wang, 2017). Local mosques in China collect and then distribute the donations to people living in poverty and to those in need in the community. While local mosques set the amount of Zakat, the contributions are generally voluntary (Ma, 2016). Waqf, an endowment or donation of land, buildings or other forms of property for charitable purposes, is a long-term stable source of income for mosques and an important source of support for educational institutions, hospitals and orphanages that serve the Chinese Muslim community. Sadaqah, voluntary giving without the expectation of being repaid, is also promoted but has not been studied systematically in China due to its irregular nature. Prior studies on Muslim philanthropy in China and around the world have shown that Muslim giving is motivated by religious obligation and shaped by religious thinking (for example, those with more should help those with less) (Morton et al, 2018; Mahmood, 2019).

Although religiosity generally increases charitable giving, studies have shown variations in charitable behaviour among different religions. In a study of the philanthropic behaviour of Christians, Muslims and Hindus in the Netherlands, Carabain and Bekkers (2011) found that Protestants were more likely to give and to give higher amounts to religious institutions than Roman Catholics, Muslims and Hindus, but the differences between Protestants and Muslims disappeared after controlling for resources. Additionally, there was no significant difference in the likelihood of secular giving between faith traditions after controlling for resources. The study also found that being asked to give outside religious institutions increased the likelihood of secular giving among Muslims and Hindus, but not the amount of giving by Islamic and Hindu donors. In Canada, Berger (2006) found that conservative Protestants gave more dollars and a larger proportion of their total income than people with other religions. Catholics and members of eastern denominations, including Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists, gave less than members of other denominations. Among the eastern denomination group, 36% of the respondents were Muslim, 28% were Hindu, 20% were Buddhist and 16% were Sikh. As the study did not examine the charitable giving of the four eastern religions separately, it is hard to know whether Muslims and people following other eastern religions give a similar amount to charity or whether certain eastern religion groups donate significantly more in Canada.

The existing studies examining the charitable behaviour of various denominations were conducted mainly in countries dominated by Christian religions (for example, Carabain and Bekkers, 2011). In China, where more than half of the population is not affiliated with any religion (Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2012), the charitable behaviour of various religious groups may be different from what has been reported in other countries. Chinese Muslims may engage more in charitable giving than the other four official religious groups (Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants and Taoists) for several reasons. First, unlike Chinese Protestants and Catholics, who live in geographically different areas in China and among the majority non-religious Chinese, many Muslims are part of the ten minority ethnic groups living in Muslim-majority regions. Their Islamic religious values may encourage Muslims to contribute and help fellow Muslims in the community. In addition, some Muslim communities publicise the names of the donors, which could create a pressure to donate. Second, mosques play a central role in fostering Muslim philanthropy. They collect and distribute Muslims’ donations and facilitate various charitable activities. There are more than 35,000 mosques in China, which is much more than the 6,000 churches and clubs for Catholics and 25,000 churches for Protestants (China Central Government Portal, 2013). Third, Muslims often attend religious services regularly, but Buddhists and Taoists do not meet regularly as a group to worship God. As religious attendance is likely to increase charitable giving (Carabain and Bekkers, 2011), Muslims may be more likely to donate or donate more than people following other religions who do not have regular religious attendance. Therefore, we posit:

Hypothesis 2a:Chinese Muslims are more likely to donate to charity than their non-Muslim counterparts.
Hypothesis 2b:Chinese Muslims donate more to charity than their non-Muslim counterparts.

Government assistance, religiosity and charitable giving

The literature on public assistance and charitable giving suggests that, in theory, public assistance may either positively or negatively influence charitable giving. One of the explanations for why public assistance may lower charitable giving is that recipients will develop a reliance on the public sector and squash their sense of responsibility to help others through charitable work (Brooks, 2002, 2004). As the literature on religious philanthropy shows that religions, including Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism and Oriental religions, emphasise a strong obligation to give and to help (Neusner and Chilton, 2005), this study argues that religiosity may mitigate the potential negative impact of government assistance on charitable giving, and therefore the association between government assistance and charitable giving may vary by recipients’ religiosity. In other words, government assistance may lower the likelihood or amount of giving of non-religious recipients, but the negative association may disappear for religious recipients. In addition, as Muslims have a religious obligation to give a certain percentage of their income to the Muslim community, government assistance would be expected to increase the amount of Muslim recipients’ charitable giving since it increases their financial capacity to give. In China, the government has adopted numerous policies and implemented various assistance programmes to support the development of Muslim minority ethnic regions in the past few decades. For example, the central government allocated a total of 241.52 billion RMB of special poverty alleviation funds from 2016 to 2020 to support the eight provinces and regions where many Chinese Muslims and other minority ethnic communities live (Li, 2021). Muslims in these regions are likely to feel supported and therefore be more willing to donate to charity when needed or donate more when they receive more government assistance. Therefore, we posit:

  • Hypothesis 3a: Muslim government assistance recipients are more likely to donate to charity than their non-Muslim counterparts.

  • Hypothesis 3b: Muslim donors receiving more government assistance will give more to charity than their non-Muslim counterparts.

In sum, these theoretical models have been developed to examine the joint influences of government assistance and religiosity on the charitable giving of Chinese Muslim and non-Muslim families, controlling for household characteristics such as financial resources, education, homeownership, family size and family location.

Data and method

Data

To estimate the impact of government assistance on charitable giving among Muslim and non-Muslim families, we used data derived from the 2016 China Family Panel Studies (CFPS) survey. As a nationwide longitudinal dataset conducted by Peking University, CFPS implemented a baseline survey in 2010 and did follow-up surveys in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018, using probability proportional to size (PPS) sampling to reduce regional differences and improve national representativeness (Xie and Lu, 2015). Rich information, such as sociodemographics, household finances and the family relationship, was included in both individual and family questionnaires. The present study uses individual- and household-level CFPS data for 2016. Considering the small proportion of missing data (6.93%), imputation methods were applied to replace the missing values of continuous variables with their respective means and those of categorical variables with their modes (Farhangfar et al, 2008). As a result, 13,935 families were included in the analysis.

Measures

Charitable giving was the dependent variable of this research. Whether to give or not and the amount of the family donation were the two indicators measuring charitable giving. The decision to give was coded 1 if the family made a charitable contribution within the past 12 months, and 0 otherwise. To adjust for the skewed distribution in the amount of donation made, we applied a log transformation to the variable.

Two key independent variables were government assistance and family religion. Government assistance was measured by the incidence of government assistance and the total amount of government assistance that each family got in 2015. Both income-related government assistance (such as Dibao and Wubao) and non-income-related assistance (such as reforestation aid based on the Grain for Green Project, the agricultural machinery subsidy, work injury aid to families and emergency relief) were counted. A log transformation of the amount of government assistance was included in the analysis to adjust for the skewed distribution of the variable. The family religion variable was coded based on the individual-level data. Families with at least one member who followed Islam were regarded as Muslim families, those with one or more family members who believed in other religions, including Buddhism, Taoism, Protestantism and Catholicism, were considered families with other religions, and families where none of the family members had a religious belief were considered non-religious families. As one aim of this article is to compare charitable giving between Muslim and non-Muslim families, the Muslim family was used as the baseline comparison group, and family with other religions and family with no religion were two dummy variables included in the analysis. The interaction terms of religion and the incidence of government assistance as well as religion and the amount of government assistance were also included in the multivariate analyses, respectively.

The control variables were captured by family income, education, homeownership, family size, the regional location of the family and urban/rural residence. Appendix 1 presents the definition and measurement of the listed control variables.

Statistical analysis

Logistic regression and ordinary least squares (OLS) regression were used to test the impact of government assistance and religiosity on charitable giving. The binary logistic regression was employed to exam whether the incidence of government assistance and religiosity would influence a family’s decision to give. A total of 2,421 families who had reported in the survey that they had donated in the past 12 months were selected to examine the effect of the amount of government assistance and religiosity on the amount of charitable giving using OLS regression. All the analyses used weighted data to ensure unbiased results and the generalisability of the findings to the population (Korn and Graubard, 1995; Xie and Lu, 2015).

Table 1 presents descriptive statistics on the variables. Among the 13,935 cases in the sample as a whole, there were 129 Muslim families (0.93%), 2,917 families following other religions (20.93%) and 10,889 non-religious families (78.14%). There were 5,871 families in receipt of government assistance (42.13%), while 8,064 families were non-recipients (57.87%). About 13% of government assistance recipients donated in 2015, compared with 21% of the non-recipients. The donation amount varied. Among the 2,421 donors in the sample, the average donation amount from government assistance recipients was 52.69 RMB (approximately $8.23), while non-recipients donated 106.1 RMB (approximately $16.58) on average. Muslim families accounted for about 1% of the donors and 1.1% of government assistance recipients. Around a quarter of the donating families were families following other religions, which took up about 22% of the government assistance recipients.

Table 1:

Descriptive statistics, by subgroups of givers and government assistance receivers, 2016

VariableGive to charityDo not give to charityGovernment assistance recipientsNon-government assistance recipients
Sample size2,42111,5145,8718,064
Percentage who give money (%)12.5420.90
Percentage who receive public assistance (%)30.4044.60
Donation variables
Amount donated (RMB)480.90.0052.69106.1
Government assistance variable
Government assistance income (RMB)677782.501813.800.00
Family religion variable
Muslim families (%)0.990.911.110.79
Families with other religion (%)25.0720.0622.0920.09
Families with no religion (%)73.9479.0376.8079.12
Household characteristics
Family finances (RMB)116,63468,60055,72492,395
Family size3.633.724.123.41
Education (≥ college) (%)51.0533.1228.0742.18
Homeowner (%)80.9285.2391.0179.72
Region
Eastern (%)46.8842.9030.7452.94
Middle (%)27.6728.9431.7826.49
Western (%)25.4428.2737.4720.57
Urban/rural residency
Rural (%)31.0252.0867.2834.69
Urban (%)68.9847.9232.7265.31

Source: Own calculations based on the 2016 CFPS data.

Results

The results of the logistic regression (see Table 2), which examined the potential influences of government assistance and religion on the incidence of charitable giving, showed that, for families who were not in receipt of government assistance, there was no statistically significant difference in the incidence of giving among Muslim families, families with other religions (OR = 1.80, p > .05) and non-religious families (OR = 1.45, p > .05). Additionally, receiving government assistance did not significantly influence the likelihood of giving among different religious groups. On the other hand, the likelihood of charitable giving increased among families with better education, a higher family income, a smaller family size, those living in an urban area, as well as those located in the western regions of China. Families with education at college level or above were 1.5 times more likely to donate compared with families where no family members had attended college (OR = 1.52, p < .001). The families’ financial situation also had a significant impact on charitable giving. An additional unit of family income increased the likelihood of charitable giving by more than twice (OR = 3.27, p < .001). Also, an additional family member lowered the likelihood of giving by 10% (OR = .91, p < .001). Urban residents were more likely to donate (OR = 1.57, p < .001) than their rural counterparts, and families in the western region presented a significantly higher likelihood of giving compared with those in the eastern region (OR = 1.43, p < .05).

Table 2:

Regression results, overall sample (weighted), 2016

Logistic regression (donate or not)OLS regression (log amount of donation)
B (SE)Odds ratioβ (SE)
Intercept–7.49***.19
(.64)(.25)
Government assistance variables
Government assistance receipt1.735.61
(1.31)
Amount of government assistance (AGA) (log).26***
(.05)
Family religion
Families with other religions.591.80–.12
(.42)(.15)
Non-religious families.371.45–.12
(.40)(.15)
Interact
Government assistance × family with other religion–1.77.17
(1.34)
Government assistance × non-religious family–1.94.14
(1.31)
Log AGA × family with other religion–.23***
(.05)
Log AGA × non-religious family–.30***
(.05)
Household characteristics
Family finance (log)1.19***3.27.47***
(.10)(.04)
Education.42***1.52.11***
(.06)(.03)
Homeowner–.13.88.05
(.08)(.03)
Family size–.10***.91–.04***
(.02)(.01)
Region
Middle.011.00–.01
(.10)(.04)
Western.36**1.43–.02
(.14)(.05)
Urban location.45***1.57.04
(.08)(.04)
Goodness of fit
Log likelihood–6312.57
Nagelkerke pseudo R2.12
R2.18

Notes: Statistically significant: * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001. Standard errors (SEs) are in parentheses.

Source: Own calculations based on 2016 CFPS survey data.

Regarding the amount of charitable giving, the amount of government assistance had a significant impact on how much money families gave in 2015 and the impact varied by families’ religious background (see Figure 1). With an increasing amount of government assistance, Muslim families donated more to charities (β = .26, p < .001), and the positive association also appeared in families following other religions, with a one-unit increase in government assistance (or 10 RMB) leading to a 0.3-unit increase (or 2 RMB) in the amount of donation. However, the non-religious families tended to decrease their donation amount when they got a higher amount of government assistance, which shows that religiosity moderates the relationship between the amount of government assistance families receive and their charitable giving. In addition, higher family income and better education increased the amount of charitable giving, while families with more members donated less (β = -.04, p < .001). The results support both hypotheses 2b and 3b.

The changes in the amount of donation of different religious families as a result of an increase in government assistance.
Figure 1:

Changes in the donation amount (log)

Citation: Voluntary Sector Review 2022; 10.1332/204080521X16383852007870

Note: The estimated amount of donation is calculated by holding all other categorical variables constant at 0 and all other continuous variables constant at their means.

Interestingly, the interactions between government assistance and religiosity showed different impacts on families’ giving decision and their amount of donation. Receiving government assistance did not influence the likelihood of giving among Muslim families, families with other religions and non-religious families. However, religiosity moderated the association between the amount of government assistance and the donation amount. As Figure 1 shows, Muslim donors in China generally give more to charities compared with families with other religions and non-religious families, regardless of whether they receive government assistance or not. In addition, families following Islam show a higher level of increase in donation associated with a higher amount of government assistance. Families following other religions also donate more when they receive more government assistance, but the increase in donation is less than that of Muslim families. The results suggest that the amount of government assistance increases charitable giving among religious families, no matter whether they are Muslims or families of other religion, while non-religious families tend to donate less if they receive more government assistance. The results in Table 2 also show that urban residents are more likely to donate compared with their rural counterparts, but urban donors give similar amounts as rural donors. Likewise, families in western China are more likely to donate, but they do not donate more compared with families in the eastern part.

Discussion and conclusions

Factors that impact charitable giving have been widely discussed since financial support is vital for the survival and development of a non-profit organisation (Strickland and Vaughan, 2008). The impact of religiosity and government assistance on charitable giving has been examined separately in the existing literature. Empirical evidence shows that religious people are more generous than non-religious people (Bekkers and Wiepking, 2011). While government assistance also influences charitable giving, exactly how it may influence charitable giving remains debatable. On the one hand, government assistance can increase the disposable income of individuals and families, which is associated with a higher financial capacity for giving (Brooks, 2002; Yang et al, 2021). On the other hand, a reliance on government and traditional political values can negatively impact individuals’ perception of social responsibility and reduce their motivation for charitable giving. Little research so far has attempted to explore how religiosity may reshape the relationship between government assistance and charitable giving. However, this is a critical research topic for the literature on Muslim philanthropy, especially in China, given there is a long history of the Chinese government supporting the Muslim community through providing goods and monetary assistance, such as the monthly food subsidy for Muslims (The People’s Government of Jiangsu Province, 2013) and the poverty alleviation funds allocated to support the provinces where many Muslims reside (Li, 2021). This study advances the literature on religious and Muslim philanthropy by investigating how government assistance impacts charitable giving among families of different religious beliefs and whether Muslim families are different in their propensity to donate as well as their donation amount compared with families of other religions and non-religious families.

The results of this study indicate that religiosity does not significantly influence the incidence of charitable giving. Muslim families are not significantly different from families following other religions and non-religious families in the likelihood of giving. Also, receiving government assistance does not remarkably change families’ propensity to give. However, for families who donate, this research shows that religiosity plays an important role in moderating the relationship between the amount of government assistance and the amount of giving. Muslim donors increase their amount of donation when they receive more government assistance, and they tend to donate more than families with other religions and non-religious families. Although family donors with other religions also increase their amount of giving as they receive more government assistance, the growth is much smaller than that of their Muslim counterparts. This is significantly different from the case with non-religious donors who reduce their amount of giving when receiving a higher level of government assistance.

These findings have several important implications. First, when we examine the potential influences of religiosity on charitable giving, we need to consider the likelihood of giving and the amount of contribution separately, particularly in countries where most people are not affiliated with any religion. Although existing studies often show that religiosity is positively associated with the amount of charitable giving, especially religious giving, some studies have found that religious people are not necessarily more willing to donate than non-religious people when asked to donate to some secular organisations (Bekkers and Wiepking, 2011). When giving to their own religion is not included, the overall rate of giving of religious people can be the same as that of those without a religion (Giving Australia, 2005). We also observe from this study that religions, whether Islam or other religions, do not increase the likelihood of giving in China. The potential explanation for this finding is that more than 50% of the Chinese population are not affiliated with a religion (Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2012), which could limit the scope of religious giving. In contrast, the public may have more opportunities to be asked to donate to secular charities. The findings of this study may also imply that the decision to give and the amount of giving could be influenced by different factors, and therefore examining the incidence and the amount of charitable giving separately may provide a better understanding of what influences charitable behaviour.

Second, the fact that Muslim donors and donors of other religions increase the amount of their charitable giving when they receive more government assistance while non-religious donors reduce their charitable giving, indicates that Islamic and other religious teachings do motivate charitable giving among religious people in China. The increase in the amount of giving is most prevalent among Muslim donors. The higher level of generosity among Chinese Muslims could be related to one of the five pillars of Islam, Zakat, which requires an adult Muslim or a Muslim household to donate a certain amount of their income to help people living in poverty and those in need in the community. The increase in the amount of government assistance could result in a higher level of charitable capacity, which consequently leads to a higher amount of charitable giving.

Finally, in terms of the association between government assistance and charitable giving, previous literature provides inconsistent empirical evidence (Brooks, 2002; Peck and Guo, 2015; Yang et al, 2021). The present study reveals that government assistance does not influence people’s propensity to give, but it does impact the amount donated, and this association is moderated by family religions in China. Whether religiosity would moderate the association between government assistance and charitable giving in other countries remains to be explored.

The theoretical and empirical contributions of this study to the field of religious philanthropy, especially Muslim philanthropy, include the following. First, little empirical research has been conducted on Muslim charitable behaviour in Muslim-minority countries, such as China, as existing studies have mainly focused on Muslim-majority countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan. The results of this study will advance our understanding of Muslims’ charitable engagement in Muslim-minority settings. Second, this study has examined the impact of Islam on charitable giving in China relative to the impacts of other religions and no religion. Previous studies have compared the influences of different religions/denominations on charitable giving in Christian-majority countries, such as Canada and the Netherlands (Berger, 2006; Carabain and Bekkers, 2011). The findings of this study add to our understanding of how various religions shape charitable giving differently in different cultural contexts. Third, as most research on Muslim philanthropy in China has been qualitative, this study has addressed understudied research questions related to Muslim philanthropy using a nationally representative sample and provides valuable empirical evidence on how Islam and other religions influence charitable giving in China. Lastly, this research considers religiosity as a moderator that significantly changes the association between government assistance and charitable giving. Many existing studies on philanthropy have demonstrated the importance of religiosity but few have explored the moderating role it plays in shaping charitable behaviour. This study fills that gap.

This study also refines our understanding of the relationship between government assistance and charitable giving. It shows that the relationship is moderated by donors’ religiosity – Muslim families, families following other religions and non-religious families change their donation amount differently when they receive more assistance from the government. In addition, this study uses a broader measurement of government assistance, including government transfer payments to low-income families and other non-income-related assistance provided to recipients to advance national strategies, support them in an emergency occasion and help them cope with family members’ death or injury in the line of duty, which is significantly different from previous studies that only measure income-related public assistance (Yang et al, 2021). This broader measurement can better reflect the level of government support for families, which may influence recipients’ prosocial behaviour differently compared with the simple welfare-based public assistance.

Despite its significant contributions, this study has several limitations. First, the small sample size of Muslim families limits our ability to focus only on the Muslim population. There were 129 Muslim families in the national survey. Although we weighted the data to make the sample representative of the distribution of the population, it is still hard to explore charitable behaviour within the Muslim community. The small proportion of Muslim families and families with other religions in the sample might partially explain the insignificant association between religiosity and the likelihood of giving. Second, since the survey only asked questions on whether the respondent made a charitable donation and the amount donated and did not ask the causes that the respondent supported, such as religious giving or secular giving, we cannot assess the different effects of religiosity and government assistance on religious versus secular giving. Future studies could examine whether government assistance influences religious and secular giving differently and how religiosity may moderate the relationships. Third, due to data limitations, this research only focuses on charitable giving and not on other types of prosocial behaviour, such as formal volunteering and informal giving, among Muslim and non-Muslim families. Future research on Muslim philanthropy could examine whether government assistance encourages other types of prosocial behaviour among Muslims as well as the moderating role of religiosity. Finally, this research does not provide a comparison of philanthropic behaviour within the Muslim community in China due to data limitations. Since Muslims in China are concentrated in ten main ethnic groups (Hui, Uygur, Dongxiang, Bo’an, Kazakh, Kirghiz, Salar, Tatar, Tajik, and Uzbek) (Yao et al, 2016), and some regions consist of Muslim-majority communities (such as the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region), while in other provinces, Muslims live with different ethnic groups, it would be interesting to examine whether Chinese Muslims’ charitable behaviours vary by their ethnicity and the ethnic composition of the community in which they live. Additionally, given the complex mixture of sects within the Chinese Muslim community (such as Hanafi Sunni Gedimu, Yihewani (Ikhwan), Shafi’I Sunni, the Wahhabi/Salafi, Ismali Shia and Sufi groups) (Israeli and Gardner-Rush, 2000; Pew Research Center, 2009), it would be interesting to examine whether there are any differences in charitable behaviour among these different sects. Thus, exploring charitable behaviour within the Muslim community, and testing how government assistance influences the prosocial behaviour of such a diverse population, is a potential topic for future research.

This study focuses on how government’s financial assistance and/or transfer payments are associated with charitable giving in China. Future studies could also examine how government’s non-monetary preferential policies, such as providing more college education opportunities for the minority population (for example, Muslims), may affect their civic engagement and prosocial behaviour, and whether religion also moderates the relationship between non-monetary government support and these behaviours. In addition, comparative research on how Islam may reshape the relationship between government assistance and charitable giving in Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority countries may be valuable to the literature on Muslim philanthropy, considering the importance of political, social and cultural influences on charitable giving.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

Reference

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Appendix 1:

Measurement of control variables

VariablesMeasurement
Family financeThe common logarithm of the amount of family income
EducationThe highest level of education within a family 1: Education at or above college level (including 2- or 3-year college, 4-year college/Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and doctoral degree) 0: Education below college (including illiterate/semi-literate, primary school, middle school and high school)
Homeowner1: Homeowner 0: Non-homeowner
Family sizeThe number of family members
Region2: Western region (including 12 provinces) 1: Middle region (including 8 provinces) 0: Eastern region (including 11 provinces)
Urban/rural residence1: Urban residence 0: Rural residence

Source: Own coding book based on the 2016 CFPS survey questionnaire.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bekkers, R. (2004) Giving and Volunteering in the Netherlands: Sociological and Psychological Perspectives, (PhD dissertation), The Netherlands: Utrecht University.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bekkers, R. and Wiepking, P. (2011) Who gives? A literature review of predictors of charitable giving part one: religion, education, age and socialization, Voluntary Sector Review, 2(3): 33765, doi: 10.1332/204080511x6087712.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Berger, I.E. (2006) The influence of religion on philanthropy in Canada, VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 17(2): 11027, doi: 10.1007/s11266-006-9007-3.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brooks, A.C. (2002) Welfare receipt and private charity, Public Budgeting & Finance, 22(3): 10114, doi: 10.1111/1540–5850.223083.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brown, E. and Ferris, J.M. (2007) Social capital and philanthropy: an analysis of the impact of social capital on individual giving and volunteering, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 36(1): 8599, doi: 10.1177/0899764006293178.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Carabain, C. and Bekkers, R. (2011) Religious and secular volunteering: a comparison between immigrants and non-immigrants in the Netherlands, Voluntary Sector Review, 2(1): 2341, doi: 10.1332/204080511X560602.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • China Central Government Portal (2012) Opinions on encouraging and regulating religious circles to engage in public welfare and charity activities, http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2012-02/27/content_2077338.htm.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • China Central Government Portal (2013) Overview of religions in China, http://www.gov.cn/test/2005–06/22/content_8406.htm.

  • China Islamic Association (CIA) (2012) Charity practice in mosques, http://www.chinaislam.net.cn/cms/gyhd/fwjk/201205/28–731.html.

  • Clotfelter, C.T. (1985) Charitable giving behavior and the evaluation of tax policy, in C.T. Clotfelter (ed) Federal Tax Policy and Charitable Giving, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, pp 27388.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Einolf, C.J. (2008). Empathic concern and prosocial behaviors: a test of experimental results using survey data, Social Science Research, 37(4): 126779, doi: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2007.06.003.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Farhangfar, A., Kurgan, L. and Dy, J. (2008) Impact of imputation of missing values on classification error for discrete data, Pattern Recognition, 41(12): 3692705. doi: 10.1016/j.patcog.2008.05.019

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gao, Q. (2017) Welfare, Work, and Poverty: Social Assistance in China, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Giving Australia (2005) Giving Australia: Research on Philanthropy in Australia, Canberra, Australia: Prime Minister’s Business Community Partnership, Department of Family and Community Services, Australian Government.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Israeli, R. and Gardner-Rush, A. (2000) Sectarian Islam and Sino-Muslim identity in China, The Muslim World, 90(3–4): 43958, doi: 10.1111/j.1478–1913.2000.tb03699.x

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Korn, E.L. and Graubard, B.I. (1995) Examples of differing weighted and unweighted estimates from a sample survey, The American Statistician, 49(3): 29195, doi: 10.2307/2684203.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Li, C. (2021) Never let a fraternal national fall behind—sSummary of decisive victory over poverty in ethnic areas, People’s Daily, 23 February, https://wap.peopleapp.com/article/6139967/6046666.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ma, X. (2016) The Study of Islam of Hui Nationality in Central Plain in the Process of Urbanization, Lanzhou: Gansu People’s Press.

  • Mahmood, F. (2019) American Muslim Philanthropy: A Data-Driven Comparative Profile, Washington, DC: Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of the People’s Republic of China (2015) Instructions of subsidies for agricultural machinery, http://www.moa.gov.cn/govpublic/CWS/201501/t20150129_4356487.htm.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Moody, M. (2008) Serial reciprocity: a preliminary statement, Sociological Theory, 26(2): 13051, doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9558.2008.00322.x.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Morton, R.B., Ou, K. and Qin, X. (2018) The effect of religion on Muslims’ charitable contributions to members of a non-Muslim majority, Journal of Public Economic Theory, 22(2): 43348, doi: 10.1111/jpet.12352.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Neusner, J. and Chilton, B. (2005) Altruism in World Religions, Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

  • Park, C. and Shin, D.C. (2006) Do Asian values deter popular support for democracy in South Korea?, Asian Survey, 46(3): 34161, doi: 10.1525/as.2006.46.3.341.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Peck, L.R. and Guo, C. (2015) How does public assistance use affect charitable activity? A tale of two methods, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 44(4): 66585, doi: 10.1177/0899764014527642.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pew Research Center (2009) Mapping the global Muslim population, https://www.pewforum.org/2009/10/07/mapping-the-global-muslim-population.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life (2012) The Global Religious Landscape: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Major Religious Groups as of 2010, Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Strickland, R.A. and Vaughan, S.K. (2008) The hierarchy of ethical values in nonprofit organizations: a framework for an ethical, self-actualized organizational culture, Public Integrity, 10(3): 23352, doi: 10.2753/pin1099-9922100303.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • The People’s Government of Jiangsu Province (2013) Regulations on properly solving the halal food problem for 10 minority groups, http://mzzjswj.suzhou.gov.cn/zjj/jsswj/201611/f7562c19d6574d0bbdb9f65f3f9f0b7b.shtml.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • The State Council of the People’s Republic of China (2002) The State Council’s opinion on further improving the Returning Farmland to Forest policy, http://www.gov.cn/gongbao/content/2002/content_61463.htm.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • The State Council of the People’s Republic of China (2006) Regulations on the work of providing Wubao in a rural area, http://www.gov.cn/gongbao/content/2006/content_219932.htm.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (2016) The world factbook: China, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ch.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wang, J. (2017) Islamic charity in China: its organizations and activities in a new era, in A. Welter and J. Newmark (eds) Religion, Culture, and Public Sphere in China and Japan, New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, pp 6986.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wang, L. and Graddy, E. (2008) Social capital, volunteering and charitable giving. Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 19(1): 2342

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wiepking, P. and Bekkers, R. (2012) Who gives? A literature review of predictors of charitable giving. Part two: gender, marital status, income, and wealth, Voluntary Sector Review, 3(2): 21745, doi: 10.1332/204080512X649379.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • World Population Review (2020) Muslim population by country 2021, https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/muslim-population-by-country.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Xie, Y. and Lu, P. (2015) The sampling design of the China Family Panel Studies (CFPS), Chinese Journal of Sociology, 1(4): 47184, doi: 10.1177/2057150X15614535.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yang, Y., Zhang, J. and Liu, P. (2021) The impact of public assistance use on charitable giving: evidence from the USA and China. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 32(2): 40113. doi: 10.1007/s11266-020-00308-4, https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11266-020-00308-4.pdf.

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  • 1 Arizona State University, , USA

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