EA Survey Series 2018: Subscribers and Identifiers


  • In this re­port, we will ex­plore the differ­ence be­tween those who self-iden­tify as effec­tive al­tru­ists ver­sus those who say they broadly sub­scribe to effec­tive al­tru­ism but do not self-iden­tify. As there is vari­a­tion in lev­els of in­volve­ment in the effec­tive al­tru­ism move­ment, we were in­ter­ested in as­sess­ing peo­ple who are out­side the scope of the typ­i­cal anal­y­sis.

  • Past re­ports in the EA Sur­vey Series have ex­clu­sively re­ported only on re­spon­dents who are aware of effec­tive al­tru­ism, sub­scribe to effec­tive al­tru­ism, and de­scribe them­selves as effec­tive al­tru­ists.

To perform this anal­y­sis, we used three ques­tions* to clas­sify peo­ple into two seg­ments – “sub­scribers” and “iden­ti­fiers.”

  • Sub­scribers are defined as those that are aware of effec­tive al­tru­ism and broadly sub­scribe to the ideals, but do not iden­tify as effec­tive altruists

  • Iden­ti­fiers are defined as those re­spon­dents that are aware of effec­tive al­tru­ism, broadly sub­scribe to the ideals, and iden­tify as effec­tive altruists

After an­a­lyz­ing the data we found:

  • Sub­scribers are de­mo­graph­i­cally similar to iden­ti­fiers, but on av­er­age have been in­volved in EA for less time.

  • The scope of sub­scriber in­volve­ment is fairly limited – they donate less money, vol­un­teer less, and are less likely to be a part of an effec­tive al­tru­ism group.

  • As this is the first year we have asked the ques­tion in this way, we do not yet have the lon­gi­tu­di­nal anal­y­sis needed to see how/​if sub­scribers con­vert to iden­ti­fiers. How­ever, the pop­u­la­tion de­mo­graphic similar­i­ties as well as uti­liza­tion of similar re­sources sug­gests that over time sub­scribers may deepen their in­volve­ment and later be­come iden­ti­fiers.



Within the sam­ple of valid Effec­tive Altru­ist sur­vey re­spon­dents, 2582 (90%) claimed to be Iden­ti­fiers and 302 (10%) were Sub­scribers. Th­ese pop­u­la­tions were broadly similar with re­la­tion to age, gen­der, eth­nic­ity, re­li­gion, em­ploy­ment, and mar­i­tal sta­tus.

Get­ting Into EA

As may have been ex­pected, the amount of time that these two pop­u­la­tions have spent in the com­mu­nity is sig­nifi­cantly differ­ent. Sub­scribers are largely newer to the com­mu­nity, 9% re­port their in­volve­ment in EA prior to 2014, com­pared to 21% of Iden­ti­fiers.

The graph be­low shows the dis­tri­bu­tion of when the two groups re­port hav­ing first started be­ing in­volved in effec­tive al­tru­ism.

It may be the case that as sub­scribers spend more time as a part of the effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­nity, they con­vert to iden­ti­fy­ing as effec­tive al­tru­ists. Or it may be the case that peo­ple who sub­scribe to the ideals but do not iden­tify are a grow­ing sub­group in the com­mu­nity given the ex­pan­sion of aware­ness of effec­tive al­tru­ism as a con­cept. Fur­ther re­search will be needed to ex­plore how peo­ple re­late to the ideals of effec­tive al­tru­ism over time. The be­low graph dis­plays the top sources of where sub­scribers and iden­ti­fiers first heard of effec­tive al­tru­ism.

When look­ing at the be­low table of im­por­tant fac­tors for in­volve­ment be­low, the pri­mary source that both iden­ti­fiers and sub­scribers re­port is 80,000 Hours. Iden­ti­fiers then re­port that GiveWell, Other (books/​ar­ti­cles), and per­sonal con­tact were the most im­por­tant fac­tors for in­volve­ment.

Cause Prioritization

Among all re­spon­dents in the sur­vey, global poverty is the sin­gle cause most se­lected as a top pri­or­ity. Sub­scribers and iden­ti­fiers also are in agree­ment with that se­lec­tion, but vary with the dis­tri­bu­tion of cause prefer­ence. Cli­mate change is a pri­or­ity for sub­scribers, with 19% of them see­ing it as the top pri­or­ity com­pared to 13% of iden­ti­fiers. After global poverty, a large por­tion of iden­ti­fiers (16%) think that re­duc­ing risk from ar­tifi­cial in­tel­li­gence is the most im­por­tant cause, while only 9% of sub­scribers agree.

Com­mu­nity Involvement

The ma­jor­ity of sub­scribers (56%) are not in­volved in any effec­tive al­tru­ism groups (groups in­cludes the EA Face­book Group, LessWrong, the EA Fo­rum, as well as lo­cal EA groups). This ap­pears to be par­tially due to lack of knowl­edge about where to ac­cess re­sources. 59% of sub­scribers state that they do not know of a lo­cal EA group, and only 7% of them are in­volved in lo­cal EA groups. 33% of iden­ti­fiers are in­volved in lo­cal groups. Sub­scribers gen­er­ally feel un­sure about their de­sire to be in­volved in lo­cal effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­ni­ties (45%). Iden­ti­fiers are also dou­bly likely to vol­un­teer for an effec­tive al­tru­ism cause (32% vs 14%).

The graph be­low shows dis­tri­bu­tion of in­volve­ment with differ­ent effec­tive al­tru­ism groups.

It ap­pears that the ma­jor­ity of sub­scribers do not know how they feel about the com­mu­nity at large. Sub­scribers are most likely (36%) to say that “I don’t know” when asked about how wel­com­ing they find the com­mu­nity, this is likely due to their rel­a­tive lack of in­volve­ment.

Ca­reer Path

Where most iden­ti­fiers (78%) feel that learn­ing about effec­tive al­tru­ism has shifted or will shift their ca­reer path, 48% of sub­scribers do not feel that learn­ing about effec­tive al­tru­ism has changed or will change their ca­reer. A plu­ral­ity of sub­scribers do not plan to fol­low di­rect char­ity work, earn­ing to give, or re­search.


When it comes to be­hav­ioral mark­ers of in­volve­ment such as plans to donate money as well as de­sire to be in­volved in effec­tive al­tru­ism in the fu­ture—sub­scribers and iden­ti­fiers vary as well. 22% of sub­scribers re­port that they do not plan to donate money in the com­ing year, while this ap­plies to only 12% of iden­ti­fiers. Ad­di­tion­ally, only 5% of sub­scribers have taken the Giv­ing What We Can pledge, while 33% of iden­ti­fiers have done so.

Other Findings

In fu­ture sur­veys, it would be in­ter­est­ing to ex­plore if peo­ple con­vert from sub­scribers to iden­ti­fiers and what in­flec­tion points may be cor­re­lated to that mind­set shift.


*Ques­tions used for seg­men­ta­tion (An­swers are Yes/​No):

  • Are you aware of effec­tive al­tru­ism?

  • Do you broadly sub­scribe to the ba­sic ideas be­hind effec­tive al­tru­ism?

  • Could you, how­ever loosely, be de­scribed as “an Effec­tive Altru­ist”?


This post was writ­ten by Lau­ren Whet­stone.

Thanks to Tee Bar­nett and David Moss for edit­ing.

The an­nual EA Sur­vey is a pro­ject of Re­think Char­ity with anal­y­sis and com­men­tary from re­searchers at Re­think Pri­ori­ties.

Sup­port­ing Documents

Other ar­ti­cles in the 2018 EA Sur­vey Series:

I—Com­mu­nity De­mo­graph­ics & Characteristics

II—Distri­bu­tion & Anal­y­sis Methodology

III—How do peo­ple get in­volved in EA?

V—Dona­tion Data

VI—Cause Selection

VII- EA Group Membership

VIII- Where Peo­ple First Hear About EA and Higher Levels of Involvement

IX- Geo­graphic Differ­ences in EA

X- Wel­com­ing­ness- How Wel­com­ing is EA?

XI- How Long Do EAs Stay in EA?

XII- Do EA Sur­vey Tak­ers Keep Their GWWC Pledge?

Prior EA Sur­veys con­ducted by Re­think Charity