The recent Women Give Report 2010 continues the line of recent research supporting the finding that women are more generous than man, when comparing women and men with similar economic characteristics. These findings can help women all over the world realize that they too have a potential to give, and to give generously. This is important from a sociological perspective: people display behavior that is accepted and preferably stimulated by peers. Showing that women are generous, even when they have small purses, can and will facilitate future donations by other women.
However, one question that remains largely unanswered, and which I find very interesting, is why women are more generous than men (under similar economic circumstances). In the literature we can find some suggestions for answers to this question. A first answer can be traced back to the different in evolutionary development of men and women. From an evolutionary perspective, women are more generous than men, because they benefitted more from displaying prosocial behavior. As primatologist Frans de Waal argues in his recent book The Age of Empathy, empathic concern can be traced back to early primal evolution and was developed simultaneously with parental care. Females expressing empathic concern for their offspring had greater reproductive success than their counterparts without this prosocial trait. Empathic concern -feeling concern for others- facilitates helping behaviour, among which we today include financial generosity towards unknown others. A first explanation for gender differences in generosity can thus be found in the different evolutionary development of empathic concern in men and women. WPI Research Committee member and sociologists Chris Einolf has published research in support of this gender difference. He shows that women score higher on prosocial psychological traits, such as agreeableness (which is closely related to empathic concern) and prosocial role identity, than men do. This drives part of the gender difference in generous behaviour.
Sociological research has put great emphasis on the importance of social networks for generosity behavior. Research shows that up to 85% of the charitable gifts are made following a request. Women typically have larger social networks, and particularly religious networks. Through these networks they receive many requests for donations. And from other research we know that people (both men and women) are more likely to comply with a request for a gift when asked by someone you personally know. Because women have larger social networks, they receive more personalized requests for donations then men do, and hence they donate more often and higher amounts.
A final explanation for the difference in generosity between men and women comes from the stronger religiosity of women. A large portion of charitable donations are made to religious organizations and institutions. People who are more religiously affiliated give more to religion, but give more to secular causes as well. On average, women are more religious than men. Not only do they express stronger feelings of religiosity, they also attend religious services more often than men do. Thus, because women have stronger religious affiliation, this impacts their generosity.
These are three examples of explanations for the stronger generosity of women compared with men. Future research by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute is needed to explore more explanations to answer the intriguing question of why women are more generous than men.
Guest blogger Pamala Wiepking is Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. She is a member of the Erasmus Center on Strategic Philanthropy (ECSP). Her research focuses on interdisciplinary explanations of international philanthropy, and is funded by a four year grant from the Netherlands Scientific Organization (NWO). Pamala initiated the European Research Network on Philanthropy (ERNOP), which currently has over 70 members in 17 countries, and is currently serving as a board member. She is also an Adjunct Fellow affiliated with the Australian Center of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. Pamala is a member of the editorial board for the International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing. Dr. Wiepking is a member of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute Research Committee.