New Englanders remain among the most tightfisted in the country when it comes to charitable giving while Bible Belt residents are among the most generous, according to an annual index.

For the fourth year running, New Hampshire was the most miserly state, according to the Catalogue of Philanthropy's Generosity Index. Mississippi remained at the top for generosity.

The index, which takes into account both "having" and "giving," is based on average adjusted gross incomes and the value of itemized charitable donations reported to the Internal Revenue Service on 2003 tax returns, the latest available.

However, its methodology has been criticized and has helped give rise to new studies of charitable giving.

"We believe that generosity is a function of how much one gives to the ability one has to give," said Martin Cohn, a spokesman for the Catalogue for Philanthropy, a Boston-based nonprofit that publishes a directory of nonprofit organizations.

Using that standard, the 10 most generous states were, in descending order, Mississippi, Arkansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Utah, South Carolina and West Virginia.

The 10 stingiest, starting from the bottom, were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Minnesota, Colorado, Hawaii and Michigan.

But a study by the Boston Foundation concluded that the index presents an undeserved image of New England as a region made up of Yankee skinflints.

"If everyone in Massachusetts gave 100 times as much to charity as we do today and everything else remains the same, we wouldn't get above the bottom half of the chart," said David Trueblood, a spokesman for the foundation. "And no matter what Mississippi did, it couldn't fall below 22nd or 23rd."

The foundation proposed an alternate measure of generosity based on each state's share of overall charitable contributions and income, adjusted for differences in taxes and living costs. Using that methodology, Massachusetts' generosity ranking last year would be 11th, instead of 49th.

Another new study, conducted by The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University on behalf of a group of New England sponsors, also boosts the case for residents of the six-state region.

That study, which supplements IRS data with a survey of representative households, found that individuals in New England give less, on average, to charity than people in other regions, but that the percentage of New Englanders who do contribute is higher than the national average. It also found that contributors in New England tend to favor secular, rather than religious, causes.

Cohn said he was disappointed that the Boston Foundation chose to attack the index without understanding that its purpose is to promote discussion about philanthropy and that it never sought to hang a label on any state.

Trueblood said he wanted to move the discussion away from rankings and toward ways to get people to be more generous.