New study finds self-interest guides men's decisions on charitable giving

Posted at 11:38 AM, Feb 10, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-10 11:53:14-05

When it comes to charitable donations (also known this time of year as deductions), do women or men hold the edge on generosity?

A new study suggests men will be more generous if they’re shown giving to a cause may further their own self-interest.

Women generally are more empathic toward many causes, and some studies have found them more responsive in giving both time and money.

Just who decides to give may be murkier among couples, but a 2010 study from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (a collaboration between Indiana and Purdue universities) found that households headed by a single female gave 57 percent more to charity than did those headed by a single male.

A few other recent studies have found men actually matching or exceeding donations by women. Still, social scientists have found men are less likely to donate to charities dedicated to the poor.

Researchers at Stanford University found one possible approach to giving that seemed to reverse those odds. In an online survey of 1,715 men and women, researches tried five appeals for giving to a fictional Coalition to Reduce Poverty – one stressed that 98 of donations directly benefit the poor, another that most people give when asked, a third stressed that the efforts remedied injustice and one simply asked people to give.

It was the fifth pitch – what the researchers term “aligned self-interest” where the female tilt toward giving faded, however.  This appeal argued that poverty weighs down our interconnected economy and worsens societal problems like crime.

Co-author Rob Willer , an associate professor of sociology at Stanford, said women might have felt less willing to express concern about poverty when presented with a reason that seemed inconsistent with feeling empathy for the poor. Men presented with this rationale showed “significantly greater willingness to give”, at levels comparable to women in the study the researchers said.

“The aligned self interest pitch changed men’s giving, making them give more than they otherwise would,” said Willer in a press release about the study.

The  study was reported online last month by the journal Social Science Research.

[Related: Obamacare requirements complicate 2014 tax returns]

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