Salt Lake City-Ogden residents who itemized their federal tax deductions gave nearly 15 percent of their discretionary income to religious and nonprofit causes, according to the study being published Monday.
The runner-up was Michigan's Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland area at 10 percent.
The study analyzed 1997 tax data for households earning more than $50,000 a year that itemized deductions, including charity donations, on their tax returns. Taxpayers who don't itemize can't write off charity donations, and there is no reliable way to measure their donations.
The Chronicle subtracted housing, food, taxes and other basic living costs from total incomes to arrive at figures for discretionary incomes.
"Race is a very powerful factor in giving, so there's a very powerful influence," Chronicle editor Stacy Palmer told CBS Radio News. "Blacks give 25 percent more of their discretionary income to charity than Whites do."
For the Salt Lake-Ogden region, discretionary income was figured at $39,345 per household.
Hartford, Conn., was the nation's least-generous metropolitan area, with 4.7 percent of discretionary income going to charities, the study found.
In Utah, much of the charitable giving is in the form of tithing to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Across the nation, more than $3 of every $4 donated was given to houses of worship and religious causes, the study found.
"Because of the tradition of tithing among the Mormons, everyone knew the charitable giving there was very, very high," said Palmer.
Outside the church, United Way of Salt Lake raised only $8.2 million last year, far less than the $26 million the agency raises in other cities of equal size, chief executive officer Deborah Bayle Nielsen told the Chronicle.
The United Way has ranked Utah 48th in the nation for per-capita giving to secular charities.
The Mormon church's welfare chief, Harold Brown, told the Chronicle the generosity of the church and its members reduces the demand for social services in Utah. Nielsen conceded the point but said the United Way still can't raise enough money to meet Utah's needs.
Conversely, contributions to United Way of the Capital Area in Hartford from the 40 towns served by that regional agency are almost double the national average on a per capita basis, said Susan Dunn, senior vice president.
"What we see in the Hartford region is a very generous community," Dunn said.
Even worse in the Chronicle's rankings, at the very bottom of the list, was a county in New Hampshire, making New England the stingiest area of the country.
"A lot of people there say it's the independent spirit, but also there's not as much of a spirit of religious gift giving there," said Palmer, "and so any place where you don't have religion being the driving force, you can see that giving goes down."