The Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy has just released a study showing that at all income levels women give more than men—both more frequently and more generously when controlled for income.
This study’s headline is that across nearly all income levels women are more likely to give and on average give more than men.
Specifically, women who make $23,509 or less (Q1) are 28% more likely to give than men; women who make $23,509 – $43,500 (Q2) are 32% more likely to give; women who make $43,5000 – $67,532 (Q3) are 49% more likely to give than men; women who make $67,532 – $103,000 (Q4) are 43% more likely to give than men; and women who make +$103,000 (Q5) are 26% more likely to give than men.
In every income group except for Q2, women give more than men. In Q1, women give 92% more (or almost twice as much) than men; in Q3, women give 95% more (or almost twice as much) than men; in Q4, women give almost 45% more (or almost one and a half times more) than men; and in Q5, women give 94% more (or almost twice as much) than men.
The study’s authors resist the temptation to make bold claims about why this is the case, though they note that generosity tends to increase with education and that women now earn more than half of all bachelor’s degrees. Generosity also increases with income, and more women are employed now, and therefore earning their own income, than ever before. But even controlling for income, education and wealth, in what principal investigator Debra Mesch calls “pure terms,” women are the more generous half of the population.
[Digression: Women now make 80 cents for each male dollar. This represents an increase from 62 cents in 1979, at which rate we’ll achieve wage parity in 2043. Only the most ridiculously strident feminists regard this as a problem.]
What’s the source of women’s greater generosity? When prompted, Mesch is willing to indulge in a bit of speculation:
“Women are socialized to take care of their families and their communities, and because of that socialization process we see the motives of empathy and caring. We’ve done another study that looks at difference in motives for giving, and women score much higher on empathy and principle of care.”
Her new study’s results comport with the trend to focus international aid on women because they’re more likely than men to spend surplus income on their families instead of themselves. Mesch is unsurprised: “I think that’s an international phenomenon, that women are the caregivers and nurturers; they have more of those prosocial behaviors.”
So what difference does any of this make, except the sheer giggle value of demonstrating female superiority to the male of the species? Mesch is the Queen of Tact on the subject:
“I think what we need to understand is that one is not better than the other, just different. Women give for different reasons, give differently, are much more egalitarian in their approach. As girls, we’re taught to be nice and share. Men have been taught to be much more competitive, and to communicate status. Men are strategic and women want to be equalizers.”
[Oh, right, of course: no one’s better, we’re just different. But the Nonprofiteer defies anyone to offer an example of how “less generous” can be better than, or even equal to, “more generous.”]
If we’re lucky, the study will help eliminate the prejudice afflicting most professional fundraisers: that women are timid askers and chintzy givers who never donate without asking someone’s permission. Not only will cultivating a female donor be more likely to yield a “yes” than comparable effort spent on a man, but women’s giving will increase faster than men’s relative to their economic power. You’re betting on a stock that’s going up.
But you can’t treat your female donors like men in drag. As Mesch notes,
“If you’re a fundraiser, you have to communicate with women in a different way than with men. You need to involve and engage them, because if you feel involved as a woman, you contribute not only your money but your time.”
Thus the study suggests a lot more than it claims: that today’s efforts to find meaningful work for female volunteers will produce tomorrow’s major gifts. That achieving equal pay is essential not just to women but to the charities we support (so, a little help here, guys?). That female-headed households can be a resource to be tapped and not just a problem to be solved. That the future of philanthropy rests in women’s hands.
What makes this more than a parlor game is the extent to which it reveals the role of empathy in giving. Just as poor people give a greater proportion of their income to charity than rich people—presumably because they know how it feels to be on the needing side of the give-and-need equation—so women may give more generously because we know what it’s like to be dependent. Women are less likely to imagine that having been born on third base means we hit a triple; and the feminist mantra that every woman is one divorce away from welfare makes most of us acutely aware that there but for the grace of God go I.
Part II of the study, scheduled to be released in December or January, will address gender differences in the kind of charities supported: secular or religious? Large or small? Do women’s gifts go to operating expenses, while men’s go to bricks and mortar on which they can carve their names? Says Mesch,
“What I can tell you is from the previous research, men and women do give to different causes. We find women seem to give more to the social service areas, to helping the needy. Plus women seem to spread their giving out [among multiple charities] and men are much more strategic.”
The results of her research leave Mesch hopeful.
“My ideal wish is that at some point, we won’t have a need to study women’s philanthropy. It would be wonderful if philanthropy is just philanthropy, and we understand that women have caught up in terms of their income and education and wealth.”
We can really change the world––women are at the tipping point. It’s going to be a huge movement where women can really see themselves as making an impact and being philanthropists.