New study confirms that women give more money than men

When you hear the word “philanthropist,” what do you imagine? Probably a person sort of like this:

Isn’t that picture of Bill Gates amazingly silly? In fact, you would be more accurate to imagine a person like this:

Those are some women protesting with the Domestic Workers United. Here’s the deal: The Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University has just released a study that concludes that across nearly all income levels women are more likely to give and on average give more than men. Here some of the data breakdown by annual income level:

  • $23,509 or less-women are 28% more likely to give
  • $23,509 – $43,500-women are 32% more likely to give
  • $43,5000 – $67,532-women are 49% more likely to give
  • $67,532 – $103,000-women are 43% more likely to give
  • +$103,000-women are 26% more likely to give

“These findings have the potential to affect both donors and charities significantly,” Debra J. Mesch, Ph.D., director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute said. “Women may not realize they are giving more than men because their giving patterns differ. Understanding the power of their giving may encourage more women to consider the difference they can make with their giving. Nonprofits may see this as a reminder to pay closer attention to the philanthropic power of women and the importance of developing fundraising strategies that will appeal to their priorities.”

Of course the obvious question is WHY?! One hugely generalized hypothesis is that women, by virtue of living in a half-changed society with regards to gender discrimination, have a personal connection to oppression. This personal connection may translate into identifying more with the folks that benefit from philanthropy, thus inspiring them to give at proportionately higher levels. Any other guesses as to psychological or structural conditions that create this discrepancy in giving?

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  • nazza

    I think looking into patterns of giving might also be helpful. I’ve found that many women tend to give little bit by little bit, quite consistently, while men often give nothing at all, and then one huge contribution at once. Whether it’s society or biology or some combination thereof, I know not.

  • Calvin

    Speaking from a social psychological perspective, it may be that because women are simply more empathetic on average they are also more privy to appeals for charity as a result.

    An interesting parallel finding in past research is that conservatives give much more money to charity that liberals (30-50%, depending on what you’re looking at). One possible interpretation of that finding is that conservatives perceive social justice as more effectively carried out by individual altruism than government intervention.

    To make this finding more confusing however, liberals are disproportionately female. And to add on top of that, females are also much more likely to be religious, and religious people are about 25% more likely to give to charity than non-religious people (not controlling for political orientation).

    My interpretation of these findings is that it may be largely explained by the mean differences in religiosity and levels of empathy, not an orientation toward oppression in general.

  • CF

    Sigh… can I say the depressing thought that came to mind when I saw this question? It could be that women have greater empathy towards people in trouble due to systematic oppression. I think however that the cultural expectations have also taught women to value other peoples needs over their own. Men in this culture are not taught in the same way that the world is in need of their sacrifice and giving.

    The sentiment “Women may not realize that they are giving more than men, because their giving patterns differ” has truth in a lot of walks of life.

  • TD

    How do you compare spending rates when most spending is done not by the individual but by the family. Are women simply more likely to be the ones to write the check? In which case isn’t this just part and parcel with women being the primary spender in most families?

  • davenj

    a. Your coverage of the study missed a MAJOR qualifier: the study only assesses single-person headed households, i.e. men and women who either have never married, have gotten divorced, or who are widows/widowers. That significantly alters the dynamic.

    The question isn’t “why do women tend to give more?” It’s “why do women who never marry, divorced women, and widows tend to give more than their male counterparts?”

    That’s a COMPLETELY different question.

    b. Some theories in regard to the more accurate questions I listed above:

    1. Men are more socially encouraged to seek partners and spend their money on themselves when they separate/divorce/become widowed, giving less social encouragement to give that money to charity, particularly because they’re encouraged to spend disposable income.
    2. Men who separate or divorce in particular are less likely to be engaged in the day to day raising of any children from the previous marriage, and a lot of charity happens through activities parents do with their children, like school fundraisers, Girl Scouts, etc.
    3. Dovetailing in with the last point, single men are not necessarily as welcome to participate in many types of charitable events given stereotypes about male attitudes and capabilities, and less encouragement or accessibility results in less action.

    Essentially, divorced or otherwise single men are discouraged from participation in a variety of charitable ventures, most notably those pertaining to children, where being a single male is especially odd or out of the norm.

    c. Some more generalized theories pertaining to your original question:

    1. Women are socialized to care more, and to be more open about caring more. This can lead to more action in private.
    2. Women are “allowed” to care about issues that are considered “un-masculine”, such as environmental issues and problems pertaining to children. A woman doesn’t run the risk of being called a “pussy” for having a “Save the Whales” t-shirt.
    3. Women are encouraged to be more open about, and active about, health issues. Consider the difference between Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer fundraising, and the notion that men with health issues ought to “suffer in silence”.

    The socialization of caregiving, and varying social responses to caregiving, seem to be pretty important, because a lot of charitable action pertains to caregiving in one way or another.

    Frankly, it’s disappointing to see a site that, otherwise focusing on things like the social construction of gender and gender roles, spouts out a hypothesis like: “women, by virtue of living in a half-changed society with regards to gender discrimination, have a personal connection to oppression. This personal connection may translate into identifying more with the folks that benefit from philanthropy, thus inspiring them to give at proportionately higher levels,” something that reads like it came out of a Cult of Domesticity handbook.

  • Steven Olson

    Your point appears to be solid, but your choice of using Bill Gates as a person not to think of when you think of Philanthropy completely undermines the point you are trying to make. As someone who has donated billions of dollars to charity, he is certainly an appropriate person to think of as a philanthropist.

    • Holly

      I agree that the choice to use Bill Gates as an example of someone who doesn’t give to charity is wrong, considering he has not only donated billions to charity, but he and Warren Buffet have also approached a handful of the nation’s billionaires to make a moral commitment to give at least half of their wealth to charity, either at some point in their lives or at their time of death. You can see the full story about it here:

      While the point of this article is obviously that women typically give more to charity, you could have at least chosen a picture of some random male to prove your point, instead of the face of someone who has in fact proven himself to be a philanthropist.

  • Dom

    Men get away with thinking only of themselves. It doesn’t even occur to them that this might be wrong. Women get punished for the same attitude. Ergo, women feel guiltier at being selfish, and feel like someone might be watching, and therefore get bullied into giving more easily (I know, it’s a lot more cynical than “women feel more empathy” and bla, bla, bla, but I bet I’m right).