Study finds women’s generosity more swayed by social pressure

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Women are more easily swayed by social pressure than men when it comes to charitable giving, according to a new study by UC Berkeley economists.

The paper “The Importance of Being Marginal: Gender Differences in Generosity” re-examines data from the researchers’ experiment from 2008 to 2009 on altruism that examined whether generosity is due to social pressure or pure altruism. This new study looked specifically at differences in giving between the sexes.

“A lot of researchers categorize men and women into two general groups,” said Gautam Rao, a doctoral candidate in the department of economics and one of the authors of the study. “In some findings, men are found to be more generous; in others, women are more generous. They ask: ‘Which is the better sex? Which is the nicer gender?’ (But these are) not the right questions to be asking.”

Rao worked with Stefano DellaVigna and Ulrike Malmendier, professors in the campus department of economics, as well as John List, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago.

The original experiment, administered in a wealthy suburb in Chicago, involved three variations of door-to-door soliciting methods in which residents of a neighborhood were either warned or not warned about when a solicitor would come.

Results showed that generosity, measured by the amount of money donated, was relatively equal between men and women when subjects were given no warning of a solicitor’s arrival. However, when subjects were given the chance to opt out of the door-to-door call, so-called “marginal givers” would do so.

Marginal givers, as defined by the economists, are those who would donate only if persuaded and not otherwise.

The researchers found that there were significantly more female marginal givers in their sample.

“Men and women are equally generous, but women become less generous when it becomes easy to avoid the solicitor,” the authors wrote in their paper, which will be published in May 2013.

In other words, women are more likely to donate because of social influences, while men are less susceptible to these same influences.

Women may be more sensitive to social cues than men because “men are ‘simpler’ in their thought process,” said UC San Diego professor of economics and strategy Uri Gneezy, who published a similar study about gender differences in 2009.

Terrie Light, executive director of the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, said she did not feel that targeting sexes differently would make much difference for her organization’s fundraising strategy.

“We know that most of our donors are more interested in our impact and our outcomes,” said Light. “This seems to be true (regardless of gender).”

The full study will be published in the “Papers and Proceedings” issue of the American Economic Review later this spring.

Contact Alison Fu at [email protected].