While at univeristy, Wage started the Princeton chapter of the Giving What You Can organisation. He also helped his professor Peter Singer start The Life You Can Save, an organisation that researches which charities make the most impact per dollar donated.
After winning the prize for best thesis in the philosopy department, he had the option to continue with his studies at postgraduate level at Oxford University but turned it down.
Instead, he started working in finance, becoming an arbitrage trader. He had been influenced during his studies by an organisation called GiveWell, which researches the most effective way to spend money with charities, based on how many lives each dollar can save.
Realising that he wanted to give money to save lives, Wage decided to go for a career that would earn well. Then, by pledging to give a large portion of his salary, he would be able to contribute more money and thereby save more lives.
In his first year as an arbitrage trader on Wall Street, he donated 50% of his $200,000 salary, and pledged to continue giving 50% throughout his career.
During a ,speech given at Princeton University a year later, he stated:
“I decided to go into finance and give away half of whatever I made. And so that’s what I’ve been doing for the past year.”
He advocated choosing charities carefully, based on their effectiveness in improving lives. He argued that someone giving 1% of their income to an effective charity was more beneficial than giving 10% to a charity that spent 100 times more achieving the same result.
In the first year of carrying out his pledge, based on their effectiveness, he chose the Against Malaria Foundation as one of his charities. GiveWell calculated at the time that each $3,340 donated would save one child’s life.
This way of seeing charitable giving was different, in that the benefit of each dollar donated was calculated in lives saved or lives improved. This approach is part of the effective altruism movement's philosophy.
Wage explained his logic by saying:
“If you somehow saved a dozen people from a burning building, then you might remember that as one of the greatest things you ever did. But it turns out that saving this many lives is within the reach of ordinary people who simply donate a piece of their income.”
Matt Wage is still a trader. He works at a quantitative trading firm as an algorithmic trader and still donates 50% of his income to effective altruism (EA) charities.
He is also an advisor at the Long-Term Future Fund.
He continues to research and donate to meta charities, and since 2012 has funded many EA organisations, such as 80,000 Hours, CEA, CSER, FLI, Charity Science and BERI.