EA Survey Series 2018 : How do people get involved in EA?


  • Where peo­ple first hear of effec­tive al­tru­ism (EA) has changed over the years: 80,000 Hours is now much more in­fluen­tial, and Giv­ing What We Can (GWWC) much less so.

  • Per­sonal Con­tacts, books, ar­ti­cles and blogs (other than those by ma­jor orgs) and 80,000 Hours seem to now be where most peo­ple first hear of EA.

  • Peter Singer is suffi­ciently in­fluen­tial that he should prob­a­bly be his own category


In the 2018 EA Sur­vey, we asked in­di­vi­d­u­als both:

  • How did you first hear about Effec­tive Altru­ism? [sin­gle se­lect]

  • Which fac­tors were im­por­tant in ‘get­ting you into’ effec­tive al­tru­ism, or al­ter­ing your ac­tions in its di­rec­tion? Check all that ap­ply. [multi se­lect]

In each case, mul­ti­ple op­tions were pre­sented by de­fault, as well as an “Other” op­tion with an open com­ment box.

Where do peo­ple first hear about EA?

2593 EA re­spon­dents an­swered the “How did you first hear about EA?” ques­tion.

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Note: images can be viewed more eas­ily if opened in new tabs.

Across our sam­ple as a whole, Per­sonal Con­tacts, LessWrong and 80,000 Hours stand out as the places where most peo­ple first hear about Effec­tive Altru­ism, along with “Other” re­sponses. No sin­gle route ac­counts for a par­tic­u­larly large por­tion of first con­tacts with EA. The largest sin­gle cat­e­gory (other than “Other”) Per­sonal Con­tact, ac­counted for 16%. Thus, a wide va­ri­ety of differ­ent sources seem sig­nifi­cant for peo­ple first hear­ing about EA.

We ex­plo­ra­to­rily coded the open com­ments ac­com­pa­ny­ing the “Other” re­sponses, cre­at­ing new cat­e­gories wher­ever a sub­stan­tial num­ber of re­sponses seemed to fit into a given theme. Th­ese can­not be di­rectly com­pared to the num­bers above, how­ever, as while re­spon­dents were in­ten­tion­ally per­mit­ted only to se­lect a sin­gle place where they first heard about EA, in the open com­ment box, many re­sponses seemed to fit mul­ti­ple cat­e­gories and were coded as such. In ad­di­tion, how in­di­vi­d­ual re­sponses should be coded is nec­es­sar­ily some­what sub­jec­tive.

The largest cat­e­gory within the ‘Other’ re­sponses by a very large mar­gin was Peter Singer, with ~30% of all re­sponses fit­ting this cat­e­gory. Of these, about 40% referred to a book by Peter Singer and 17% referred to a course, whether his MOOC or an­other uni­ver­sity course where he was taught. How­ever a ma­jor­ity of these did not fit ei­ther these cat­e­gories or oth­ers (e.g. they just re­sponded “Peter Singer”).

Ap­prox­i­mately 19% of the open com­ment re­sponses men­tioned Pod­casts (typ­i­cally the Sam Har­ris or Joe Ro­gan pod­casts), 15% men­tioned Books, 10% men­tioned Ar­ti­cles (on­line or in a news­pa­per), 9% men­tioned a uni­ver­sity or school Course, 7% a Blog, and 4% a Talk. 5% and 6% referred to an EA org that had already been in­cluded in the fixed re­sponse op­tions (e.g. GWWC) and to a Per­sonal Con­tact re­spec­tively.

Where do peo­ple first hear about EA across time?

While the above sec­tion re­ported where peo­ple first heard about EA across our sam­ple as a whole, where peo­ple first hear about EA seems to have rad­i­cally changed across time. The full num­bers of peo­ple re­port­ing hear­ing about EA from differ­ent sources in each year can be viewed here.

The fol­low­ing graph shows the pro­por­tion of peo­ple hear­ing about EA in each year who heard about it from differ­ent sources. The cat­e­gories of ‘Other (book, ar­ti­cle, blog etc.)’ (bright green) and ‘Per­sonal Con­tact’ (bright blue) ac­count for a large share of EAs across years (never lower than 10%). LessWrong ac­counts for very large per­centages up un­til around 2015, at which point it be­gins to de­cline. At around the same time, SlateS­tarCodex be­gins to in­crease, per­haps rep­re­sent­ing some con­tinued re­cruit­ment from the ‘ra­tio­nal­ist di­as­pora’.

One of the more strik­ing changes is in the role of Giv­ing What We Can (red) as a first point of con­tact for EAs. Giv­ing What We Can seemed to have been one of the largest re­cruiters for EAs in the ear­lier years, but as early as 2012 ap­pears to have dras­ti­cally diminished in im­por­tance. After 2012, no more than 5% of EAs per year in­di­cate that they first heard about EA from GWWC.

Con­versely, 80,000 Hours (pur­ple) rep­re­sents one of the most dra­matic in­creases in our data. From 2016, the num­bers of EAs re­port­ing first hear­ing about EA from 80,000 Hours ex­plode from 9% to 13% to 25%, mak­ing them the largest sin­gle source of EA re­cruit­ment in 2018.

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One im­por­tant fact to bear in mind is that the num­ber of EAs re­port­ing hear­ing about EA in a given year has rad­i­cally in­creased with time, from a lit­tle over 200 in 2009-2012, to 700 in 2017. As the 2018 sur­vey was ad­ministered part way through the year, the num­bers for this year are, of course, lower.

As such, 80,000 Hours’ large share of peo­ple first hear­ing about EA in later years ac­counts for a very large num­ber of EAs. For ex­am­ple, the num­ber of EAs in our sam­ple who re­port hear­ing about EA from 80,000 Hours in 2017-2018 alone is more than the to­tal who heard from Giv­ing What We Can across all years. This, of course, does not nec­es­sar­ily im­ply more or less im­pact, since re­cruit­ing EAs in ear­lier years may be more valuable.

It is there­fore also in­ter­est­ing to look at the changes in the to­tal num­ber of peo­ple hear­ing about EA from differ­ent sources, rather than sim­ply the pro­por­tion hear­ing about EA from differ­ent sources, in or­der to see whether the num­bers of EAs com­ing from differ­ent sources are ac­tu­ally de­clin­ing in ab­solute terms.

As the graph would be too crowded to read if we in­cluded all 18 sources, we re­moved those groups ac­count­ing for the small­est num­bers of EAs over­all (SHIC, EAG, ACE, REG/​EAF, TLYCS, in­ter­net searches and Face­book). We ex­cluded 2018 since fewer EAs had a chance to re­port first hear­ing of EA this year and so all the num­bers are dra­mat­i­cally lower than in 2017.

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For the most part, num­bers seem to be re­li­ably in­creas­ing across sources, ex­cept for LessWrong and Giv­ing What We Can, which de­cline in ab­solute terms, since 2015.

Which Fac­tors are Im­por­tant for Peo­ple Get­ting into EA?

For this ques­tion, in­di­vi­d­u­als could se­lect mul­ti­ple op­tions as be­ing im­por­tant for them get­ting into EA.

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80,000 Hours, Books, Ar­ti­cles or Blogs, and Per­sonal Con­tact ap­peared ex­tremely in­fluen­tial here as well, though GiveWell was the sec­ond most com­monly cited in­fluence, fol­lowed by Giv­ing What We Can, lo­cal groups, and the on­line EA com­mu­nity.

There was also some change in the pro­por­tion of differ­ent co­horts of EAs (i.e. peo­ple first hear­ing about EA in differ­ent years) cit­ing differ­ent in­fluences as im­por­tant. LessWrong ap­pears to be cited more fre­quently among EAs who heard about EA in ear­lier years and less fre­quently by those join­ing more re­cently, whereas 80,000 Hours is cited much more fre­quently by those newer to EA. In­deed, around 50% of those who joined EA in 2017 or 2018 cite 80,000 Hours as im­por­tant for get­ting them into EA.

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Other Findings

In fu­ture posts we will ex­plore some fur­ther de­mo­graphic fac­tors and out­comes as­so­ci­ated with hear­ing about EA from differ­ent sources.


This post was writ­ten by David Moss.

Anal­y­sis con­ducted by Re­think Pri­ori­ties (David Moss, Peter Hur­ford and Neil Dul­laghan).

Thanks to Tee Bar­nett and Christina Ro­si­vak for edit­ing.

The an­nual EA Sur­vey is a pro­ject of Re­think Char­ity that has be­come a bench­mark for bet­ter un­der­stand­ing the EA com­mu­nity.

Sup­port­ing Documents

Ar­ti­cles in the 2018 EA Sur­vey Series

I—Com­mu­nity De­mo­graph­ics & Characteristics

II—Distri­bu­tion & Anal­y­sis Methodology

III—How do peo­ple get in­volved in EA?

IV—Sub­scribers and Identifiers

V—Dona­tion Data

VI—Cause Selection

Prior EA Sur­veys con­ducted by Re­think Charity