Earning to give

Earning to give involves deliberately pursuing a high-earning career for the purpose of donating a significant portion of earned income, typically because of a belief in effective altruism.

Advocates of earning to give sometimes suggest that maximizing the amount one can donate to charity is an important consideration for individuals when deciding what career to pursue, even if the individual has less intrinsic interest in high-earning careers.[1]


In the 1996 book Living High and Letting Die, the philosopher Peter Unger wrote that it was morally praiseworthy and perhaps even morally required for people in academia who could earn substantially greater salaries in the business world to leave academia, earn the greater salaries, and donate most of the extra money to charity.[2]

In practice

Some people within the effective altruist community practice earning to give.[1][3][4][5] Some donate 50% of their income, more than the 10% required for the basic Giving What We Can pledge.[5][1] They may live frugally to donate more money.[5] Financial careers are popular for those pursuing earning to give.[4][1]


David Brooks criticized the concept in his New York Times opinion column,[6] arguing that, while altruists may start doing "earning to give" to realize their deepest commitments, their values may erode over time, becoming progressively less altruistic. In addition, Brooks objected to the view on which altruists should turn themselves "into a machine for the redistribution of wealth." Dana Goldstein has also criticized earning to give, prompting a response from Reihan Salam.[7]

Media coverage

Earning to give has been discussed in a number of news and media outlets including BBC News,[8] Quartz,[9]the Washington Post,[10] the New York Times,[6] and Aeon Magazine.[11]


  1. 1 2 3 4 Kristof, Nicholas (April 4, 2015). "The Trader Who Donates Half His Pay". New York Times. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
  2. Unger, Peter (1996). Living High and Letting Die. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198026811.
  3. Smith, Wesley (April 5, 2015). "Nicholas Kristof Shouldn't Follow Peter Singer". National Review. Retrieved April 11, 2015.
  4. 1 2 "The young professionals who believe their best chance at trying to save the world is by joining Wall Street and making millions". Daily Mail. June 2, 2013. Retrieved April 11, 2015.
  5. 1 2 3 MacFarquhar, Larissa (2015). Strangers Drowning. London: Penguin. ISBN 1594204330.
  6. 1 2 Brooks, David (2013-06-03). "The Way to Produce a Person". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-10-16.
  7. Salam, Reihan (May 31, 2013). "The Rise of the Singerians". National Review. Retrieved November 26, 2013.
  8. Coughlan, Sean (2011-11-21). "Banking 'can be an ethical career choice'". BBC News. Retrieved 2013-07-04.
  9. MacAskill, William (2013-02-27). "To save the world, don't get a job at a charity; go work on Wall Street". Quartz. Retrieved 2013-07-04.
  10. Matthews, Dylan (2013-05-31). "Join Wall Street. Save the world.". Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-07-04.
  11. Southan, Rhys (March 20, 2014). "Is it OK to make art? If you express your creativity while other people go hungry, you're probably not making the world a better place". Aeon Magazine. Retrieved March 21, 2014.
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