The 2015 Survey of Effective Altruists: Results and Analysis
After many months of hard work from everyone on the .impact team, this year’s EA Survey results are finally available.
It’s a long document (~25 pages), however, so we’ve put it together in an external PDF.
In November 2015, a team from .impact released a survey of the effective altruist community. The survey offers data to supplement and clarify our perception of people who identify as Effective Altruists, with the aim of better understanding the community and how to promote EA.
The results should be useful to anyone involved in movement-building, analysing the impact of the Effective Altruism community as a whole (especially with reference to donations), or anyone who’s interested in a snapshot of what Effective Altruism looked like in 2015.
Summary of Important Findings
2904 sincere people took the survey, and out of those 2352 people would consider themselves EAs. All the following results consider only the people who’d consider themselves EAs. This is three times as many people as last year!
The most popular way for the people we sampled to hear about EA was Less Wrong (20%), followed by ‘personal connection’ (11%) and ‘Book/article/blog post etc.’ (11%), but 20% of people didn’t answer this question. More people heard about EA for the first time this year than any other year.
37% of EAs sampled identified Poverty as the ‘Top Priority’ cause area. The next-most-popular top priority cause was prioritisation, with 9.4% of EAs sampled identifying this as the Top Priority.
885 of the EAs sampled donated money to an EA or EA-recommended organisation. The most popular organisations to donate to were AMF, SCI, and Give Directly.
Total donations (in 2014) from EAs sampled were $6,765,244, with the median being $330; this is very skewed by large donors.
We recorded 56 donating both last year and this year, and the median increase in donation amount was $296
436 (37% of those who answered the question) said yes to ‘Do insecurities about not being “EA enough” sometimes prevent you from taking action or participating more in the EA community?’
717 (64% of those who answered) said that EA was welcoming, 103 (9%) said that EA was unwelcoming.
The Full Document
A Note on Methodology
One large concern is that we used a convenience sample, trying to sample as many EAs as we can in places we knew where to find them. But we didn’t get everyone, and those who replied are not likely to be representative.
This year we initially launched the survey on the EA Facebook page under strict instructions not to share it further, and so we can be fairly sure that the initial group of people sampled were all members of the EA Facebook Group, although not necessarily representative ones. This gives us a benchmark to compare the other subpopulations against.
As we said last year,
“It’s easy to survey, say, all Americans in a reliable way, because we know where Americans live and we know how to send surveys to a random sample of them. Sure, there may be some difficulties with subpopulations who are too busy or subpopulations who don’t have landlines (though surveys now call cell phones).
Contrast this with trying to survey effective altruists. It’s hard to know who is an EA without asking them first, but we can’t exactly send surveys to random people all across the world and hope for the best. Instead, we have to do our best to figure out where EAs can be found, and try to get the survey to them.
We did our best, but some groups may have been oversampled (more survey respondents, by percentage, from that group than are actually in the true population of all EAs) or undersampled (not enough people in our sample from that subpopulation to be truly representative).”
This is a limitation that we can’t fully resolve, although we have tried to make some headway by using the staggered-release mechanism described above.
At the bottom of this report, we include a methodological appendix that has a discussion of the limitations of convenience sampling, and a comparison of the different subpopulations in the survey, ultimately concluding that the data we have doesn’t allow us to detect a statistically significant difference between different subpopulations in donations and primary cause choice, although certain demographic indicators—such as meat consumption and gender—are different between the subpopulations.
Overall, this is the most comprehensive survey yet of people who identify as Effective Altruists, and should help to inform discussion about the movement for the next year.