EA Survey 2019 Series: Community Demographics & Characteristics

Summary

  • This is the first in a se­ries analysing the re­sults of the EA Sur­vey 2019.

  • We col­lected 2,513 valid re­sponses from EAs in the sur­vey.

  • EAs in this year’s sur­vey look de­mo­graph­i­cally much like those in past years.

  • A ma­jor­ity are be­tween the ages of 25-34.

  • 71% re­ported their gen­der as male.

  • 87% re­ported that they iden­tify as white.

  • 86% re­ported be­ing ag­nos­tic/​athe­ist/​non-re­li­gious.

  • 46% re­ported be­ing ve­gan or veg­e­tar­ian.

  • 72% af­fili­ated with the Left or Cen­ter Left poli­ti­cally.

  • Over 90% have at­tained or are in the pro­cess of com­plet­ing a post-sec­ondary de­gree.

  • 20% have at­tended one of the top 20 uni­ver­si­ties in the world for their un­der­grad­u­ate stud­ies.

This post is the first in Re­think Char­ity’s se­ries on the EA Sur­vey 2019. In this re­port, we ex­plore the char­ac­ter­is­tics and ten­den­cies of EAs cap­tured in the sur­vey, in­clud­ing age, ed­u­ca­tion, and rates of veg*nism. In fu­ture posts, we will ex­plore how these EAs first heard of and got in­volved in effec­tive al­tru­ism, their dona­tion pat­terns, cause area prefer­ences, ge­o­graphic dis­tri­bu­tion and their ca­reer paths, among oth­ers. We are open to re­quests from the com­mu­nity of analy­ses they would like to see done, albeit with no guaran­tee that we can do them. An anonymized pub­lic dataset will be made available soon.

This year, the Cen­tre for Effec­tive Altru­ism gen­er­ously donated a prize of $1000 (USD) to be awarded to a ran­domly se­lected re­spon­dent to the EA Sur­vey, for them to donate to any of the or­ga­ni­za­tions listed on EA Funds. To be el­i­gible one needed to provide a valid e-mail ad­dress so that they could be con­tacted. The win­ner has been con­tacted by CEA and will be an­nounced within a cou­ple of weeks.

Introduction

There is clear con­cern about the rel­a­tive de­mo­graphic ho­mo­gene­ity of the EA com­mu­nity. The EA sur­vey pro­vides an an­nual snap­shot of the EA com­mu­nity. Although it does not sam­ple ran­domly from all effec­tive al­tru­ists, it does provide an im­por­tant glimpse at de­mo­graphic at­tributes among those who have taken the sur­vey. From these re­spon­dents, we ob­serve that the ma­jor­ity of these effec­tive al­tru­ists look de­mo­graph­i­cally much like those in past years. EAs in the sur­vey con­tinue to be most of­ten male, white, ag­nos­tic/​athe­ist, left-lean­ing, well-ed­u­cated, and be­tween the ages of 25-34.

After clean­ing the data and limit­ing the data set to those who in­di­cated they both sub­scribed to the ba­sic ideas of EA and could, how­ever loosely, be de­scribed as effec­tive al­tru­ists, we sam­pled a to­tal of 2,513 valid re­spon­dents[1] for this re­port. In to­tal, we sur­veyed 2,987 peo­ple.[2] This is fewer than in 2018, but still en­ables us to look at the de­mo­graph­ics of the effec­tive al­tru­ism move­ment in depth. There is no way to know the true na­ture of the EA pop­u­la­tion and no known-to-be-rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­pling frame. As our sam­pling in­stru­ment is bi­ased to­wards re­spon­dents who are sub­scribers to me­dia out­lets as­so­ci­ated with effec­tive al­tru­ism, read­ers should bear this limit­ing fac­tor in mind when draw­ing in­fer­ences or up­dat­ing pri­ors based on the re­sults pre­sented in this se­ries.

Insights

Age

EA ap­pears to still be a move­ment of twenty- and thirty-some­things. The ma­jor­ity (52%) of the re­spon­dents that took the sur­vey can be grouped into the “25-34” range, which has been the case since 2017. The youngest re­spon­dent that gave their age was aged 15 and the old­est was 84. The mean age was 31 and the me­dian age was 28, among those who gave a re­sponse.

Is EA ag­ing?

Draw­ing on data from EA Sur­veys 2014-2019, we can see that the av­er­age EA is 3-4 years older to­day than 5 years ago. The in­crease in the mean and me­dian age across the sur­veys 2014-2019 seems to sug­gest that EA is ag­ing. How­ever, there could be a lot of differ­ences across years due to differ­ent ways of in­clud­ing/​ex­clud­ing par­ti­ci­pants done by differ­ent re­searchers. In 2019 the av­er­age age a per­son was when they joined EA was 27, me­dian 24,[3] com­pared to a mean of 28 and me­dian of 24 in 2018’s sur­vey. Those who joined EA in 2019 were younger on av­er­age than the sam­ple as a whole but join­ing EA at an older age than pre­vi­ous co­horts (mean 30, me­dian 25). The av­er­age length of time a re­spon­dent had been in EA was 3.8 years in 2019, longer than 2018’s 2 years. Half of re­spon­dents in 2019 had been in EA 3 years while half of re­spon­dents in 2018 had been in EA 1 year.

Gender

As in pre­vi­ous sur­veys, a clear ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who took the sur­vey re­ported be­ing male (70.9%) , while around a quar­ter (26.9%) of re­spon­dents re­ported that they were fe­male, and 2.2.% se­lected “other”. [4] The per­centage of male re­spon­dents was marginally higher in 2019 than in the pre­vi­ous two years (67% in 2018 and 70.1% in 2017) . There does not ap­pear to be a differ­ence in av­er­age age be­tween gen­ders.

Education

Effec­tive al­tru­ists re­port be­ing highly ed­u­cated, with 94% hav­ing at­tained, or are in the pro­cess of com­plet­ing a de­gree. A plu­ral­ity of re­spon­dents re­ported the high­est level of ed­u­ca­tion en­gaged in as a bach­e­lor’s de­gree (42%) , fol­lowed by mas­ter’s de­grees (30%) , then doc­toral de­grees (16%) . This is quite similar to 2018’s sur­vey, though no­tably there is a greater share of peo­ple with PhDs.The fol­low­ing chart shows the num­bers of re­spon­dents within each ed­u­ca­tion level.

N.B. images can be viewed in full size if opened in a new tab.

The share of re­spon­dents with post-sec­ondary ex­pe­rience in­creases with age. For EAs older than 25, ~50% or more have com­pleted a Master’s or Doc­torate. A larger share of women have Master’s de­grees than men (33.5% of women, 29.4% of men) , and a larger share of men have PhDs (16.5% of men, 12.4% of women) .

Are EAs an ed­u­ca­tional elite?

As one mea­sure of how elitist the EA move­ment is, we can look at the ed­u­ca­tional pedi­gree of those who re­sponded to the sur­vey. We asked re­spon­dents which uni­ver­si­ties did you at­tend for your As­so­ci­ate’s and/​or Bach­e­lor’s de­gree? and re­ceived valid re­sponses from 1,556 EAs. This data will not be in­cluded in the forth­com­ing pub­lic dataset.The uni­ver­si­ties at­tended by 1% or more of EAs in­clude six of the top 10 QS World Univer­sity ranked uni­ver­si­ties (the other four top 10 QS ranked uni­ver­si­ties be­ing within the top 20 most com­monly at­tended uni­ver­si­ties by EAs) , and two of the other top re­sponses are among the best uni­ver­si­ties in their re­spec­tive coun­tries. 7.7% of all re­sponses were for Oxford or Cam­bridge and 6.8% for Ivy League schools, mean­ing more than 1 in 7 EAs over­all come from this small set of Ivy/​Oxbridge uni­ver­si­ties. [5] 20% (310) of EAs in the sur­vey had at­tended at least one of the top 20 uni­ver­si­ties in the world. Of those who re­ported a gen­der and uni­ver­sity, 74% of those who went to a top 20 uni­ver­sity were male and 26% were fe­male.

Sub­ject of Study

The sub­jects that EAs have cho­sen to fo­cus on vary. 1,916 re­spon­dents pro­vided what sub­ject they stud­ied. This ques­tion was a multi-se­lect, so re­spon­dents had the op­por­tu­nity to se­lect mul­ti­ple differ­ent cat­e­gories of stud­ies.

A ma­jor­ity of effec­tive al­tru­ists re­ported study­ing sub­jects con­sid­ered to be STEM. The most cho­sen sub­jects of study were, as in 2018, Com­puter Science and Math. 45% of those who se­lected Com­puter Science joined EA since 2017. Com­pared to 2018, Philos­o­phy has dropped lower down the list from third most pop­u­lar sub­ject of study to fifth while Eco­nomics has risen to take its place. It should be noted that in 2018, Eco­nomics re­ceived only one fewer re­sponse than Philos­o­phy so not much should be made of the change in or­der and this year’s sam­ple ap­pears to have at­tracted a smaller share of re­sponses from Philos­o­phy stu­dents than in pre­vi­ous years.

Em­ploy­ment/​Stu­dent Status

Al­most a ma­jor­ity of effec­tive al­tru­ists re­port be­ing em­ployed full-time (49.7%) , fol­lowed by peo­ple who are full-time stu­dents (21%) . This is an in­crease in full-time em­ployed EAs com­pared to 2018 (43.1%) .A ma­jor­ity of 13-24 year olds re­port be­ing stu­dents (full or part time) and among those who heard of EA in 2019, 41% were em­ployed full-time, while 38% were full-time stu­dents. The shares of part-time stu­dents, home­mak­ers, re­tirees, and those not em­ployed but not look­ing for work are all down slightly from 2018 while the re­main­ing cat­e­gories are slightly up. Note that this ques­tion was asked as a multi se­lect, so these were not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. The over­all or­der of re­sponse cat­e­gories is the same as in 2018. In a sep­a­rate up­com­ing post we will ex­plore the cross-tabs to un­der­stand pat­terns be­tween skills and back­grounds and those who plan to work at EA or­ga­ni­za­tions and who have ap­plied or already work(ed) in an EA or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Race/​Ethnicity

Of the re­spon­dents who an­swered the eth­nic­ity ques­tion (which al­lowed for mul­ti­ple se­lec­tion) , [6] the ma­jor­ity of re­sponses were from peo­ple who self-iden­ti­fied as “white” (86.9%) . This is lower than the per­cent who se­lected white in 2018 (89%) and higher than in 2017 (78%) , but may be more the re­sult of sam­pling noise rather than any mean­ingful trend of EA be­com­ing more or less di­verse.Com­pared to 2018, there were slightly higher per­centages of re­spon­dents se­lect­ing Asian, his­panic or black, and fewer se­lect­ing Amer­i­can In­dian/​Alaskan Na­tive or Hawaiian/​pa­cific is­lan­der. ~62% of re­spon­dents who pro­vided in­for­ma­tion on both gen­der and race re­ported be­ing white and male, un­changed from 2018.

Veg*nism

Diets of effec­tive al­tru­ists vary, as is ev­i­denced by the chart be­low. Those who eat meat and those that ab­stain from eat­ing meat are pre­sent in roughly equal amounts.46% claim to be ve­gan or veg­e­tar­ian, while 48% con­sume meat of some form. Com­pared to tra­di­tional Amer­i­can diets , veg­e­tar­i­ans and ve­g­ans are over­rep­re­sented in effec­tive al­tru­ism. There does not seem to be a trend of in­creas­ing veg*nism, with the share be­ing un­changed since 2018, and the share of those re­port­ing that they are at­tempt­ing to re­duce the amount of meat con­sump­tion is very similar (29.8% in 2018 to 31.1% in 2019) . Ex­am­in­ing those who se­lected “other (please spec­ify) ”, most re­spon­dents de­tailed the ex­tent to which they are veg*n, but also how they are re­duc­ing their meat con­sump­tion or other cat­e­gories such as re­li­gious or low-sugar diets.

43% of males, 55% of fe­males re­ported be­ing ve­gan or veg­e­tar­ian. 14% of male re­spon­dents re­port­ing they eat meat (and not re­port­ing an at­tempt to re­duce their meat con­sump­tion) , com­pared with 6% of fe­male re­spon­dents. Both of these are lower than in 2018 and the gen­der gap has nar­rowed.

Reli­gious Affiliation

Over­all the re­li­gious af­fili­a­tions of effec­tive al­tru­ists who took the sur­vey are fairly sta­ble year-over-year. A clear ma­jor­ity re­ported be­ing Athe­ist, ag­nos­tic, or non-re­li­gious(~86%) , up from 2018 and 2017 (80%) . The trend of an in­creas­ing share of EAs iden­ti­fy­ing as Bud­dhist con­tinues this year (5.4% com­pared to 2018’s 3.34% and 2017’s 1.9%) . This may be re­lated to the rel­a­tive in­crease of peo­ple se­lect­ing Asian as their race. In 2018, 12% of Bud­dhists were Asian and in 2019 19% of Bud­dhists were Asian, while 11% of Asi­ans in 2019 were Bud­dhist and only 5% were in 2018. [7]

Politics

The ma­jor­ity of re­spon­dents (72%) re­ported iden­ti­fy­ing with the Left or Cen­ter Left poli­ti­cally and just over 3% were on the Right or Cen­ter Right, very similar to 2018. [8] Depend­ing on the coun­try, the mean­ing of Left and Right can vary, or not even be a salient poli­ti­cal di­men­sion. In an up­com­ing post we can ex­plore this some­what with our data on the ge­o­graphic dis­tri­bu­tion of EAs, but note this only tells us where a re­spon­dent cur­rently lives, not the na­tional poli­ti­cal cul­ture they were raised in.

Morality

A clear ma­jor­ity of EAs (80.7%) iden­ti­fied with con­se­quen­tial­ism, es­pe­cially util­i­tar­ian con­se­quen­tial­ism. Men ap­pear to lean more strongly to­wards con­se­quen­tial­ism rather than virtue ethics/​de­on­tol­ogy than women do.

Geography

As in pre­vi­ous sur­veys, the EA com­mu­nity ap­pears to live in Europe and North Amer­ica more than the world as a whole. The top coun­tries EAs live in re­main un­changed from last year. A plu­ral­ity of re­spon­dents re­ported liv­ing in the United States (39%) , fol­lowed by the UK (16%) , Ger­many (7%) , Aus­tralia (7%) and Canada (4%) . In to­tal, there were re­sponses for 60 differ­ent na­tions, 23 of which had 10 or more re­sponses. A fu­ture post will ex­plore ex­plore ge­o­graphic differ­ences in EA across the globe in more de­tail.

Credits

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

This es­say was writ­ten by Neil Dul­laghan. Thanks to David Moss, Ja­son Schukraft, Tee Bar­nett, and Peter Hur­ford for com­ments.

We would also like to ex­press our ap­pre­ci­a­tion to the Cen­tre for Effec­tive Altru­ism and the EA Meta Fund for sup­port­ing our work. Thanks also to ev­ery­one who took and shared the sur­vey.

If you like our work, please con­sider sub­scribing to our newslet­ter . You can see all our work to date here.

Other ar­ti­cles in the EA Sur­vey 2019 Series can be found here



  1. Those who se­lected “Yes” to both EA screener ques­tions, “Do you broadly sub­scribe to the ba­sic ideas be­hind effec­tive al­tru­ism?”, “Could you, how­ever loosely, be de­scribed as an “Effec­tive Altru­ist”?” and “Yes” to the hon­esty check ques­tion, “Are you giv­ing gen­uine, sincere an­swers?”. There were ap­prox­i­mately 360 re­spon­dents who an­swered “No” to at least one of the EA screener ques­tions, but 40-60% of these did not com­plete the sur­vey. For ease of com­par­i­son with pre­vi­ous sur­veys we con­tinue to ex­clude these re­spon­dents from analy­ses. ↩︎

  2. This year, we fol­lowed a similar dis­tri­bu­tion strat­egy and data han­dling pro­cess as is out­lined in 2018’s post on Distri­bu­tion and Anal­y­sis Method­ol­ogy ↩︎

  3. This was calcu­lated us­ing the data from the ques­tion in roughly what year did you first get in­volved in EA? and birth year data. The former ques­tion gave the op­tion “2009 or be­fore” so it is pos­si­ble there are re­spon­dents who have been in EA longer than 10 years, though this is un­likely to be a large per­cent of re­spon­dents. ↩︎

  4. An ad­di­tional 41 se­lected Pre­fer not to an­swer ↩︎

  5. At least among the EA sur­vey re­spon­dents who gave a re­sponse as to their un­der­grad­u­ate in­sti­tu­tion. This is likely to be an un­der-es­ti­mate be­cause we only asked about un­der­grad­u­ate in­sti­tu­tion, and al­most 50% of EAs have a post­grad­u­ate de­gree or two. There may be some se­lec­tion effects where peo­ple from these Ivy and Oxbridge uni­ver­si­ties are more likely to write in their in­sti­tu­tion but one could plau­si­bly see this effect go­ing ei­ther way. ↩︎

  6. Fewer than 5% of re­spon­dents se­lected more than one race/​eth­nic­ity op­tion, and less than 0.5% se­lected more than two. ↩︎

  7. Our coun­try ques­tion only asks where re­spon­dents cur­rently live so we do not have data on na­tion­al­ity to know if a given re­spon­dent was born in an Asian coun­try. “Asian” here refers only to if a re­spon­dents se­lected this op­tion in the race/​eth­nic­ity ques­tion. ↩︎

  8. Note that the 62% Left re­ported in the 2018 De­mo­graph­ics post in­cluded re­spon­dents who did not re­spond or chose pre­fer not to an­swer. Look­ing only at those who gave a real re­sponse, 71% of EAs in 2018 re­ported be­ing Left or Cen­ter Left. ↩︎

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