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Which Is The More Generous Sex?

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#1 Anonymouse


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Posted 03 July 2006 - 07:23 PM

Men or Women: Which is the more generous sex?

Men are so decent, such regular chaps.
Ready to help you through any mishaps.
Ready to buck you up whenever you are glum.
Why can’t a woman be a chum?

— Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady

Woman seems to differ from man in mental disposition, chiefly in her greater tenderness and less selfishness.... Man ... delights in competition, and this leads to ambition which passes too easily into selfishness.
—Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871)

Who is right – Henry Higgins or Charles Darwin? The question is not merely academic. If one sex is significantly better than the other, then perhaps we should be looking for ways to help the lesser sex improve. Not surprisingly, such efforts are already well underway by groups who think males could do a lot better. Also, vast amounts of money are at stake. Economists and psychologists report that male and female giving patterns are distinct. Men, for example, tend to focus on only one or two philanthropic causes; women support several all at once. As a University of Wisconsin economist suggests, “Those who broker in altruism, such as charities and fund-raisers, may find it in their interest to learn more about these differences and to exploit them in their enterprises.” So, who is more generous?

In June of 1998 several newspapers in the United States and Great Britain announced the results of a study published in the Economic Journal – the official journal of the British Royal Economic Society. The headline in the London Independent summarized the findings somewhat sensationally: “Women Put Men to Shame in the Generosity Game.” The more restrained San Francisco Chronicle put it this way: “Study Says Women are More Generous than Men, After All.” The two researchers, Catherine Eckel and Philip Grossman, from Virginia Polytechnic and the University of Texas, respectively, found that “women, on average, donate twice as much as men to their anonymous partners.”

Eckel and Grossman had studied the way male and female subjects behaved when playing the “dictator game.” Each subject (college students from various schools and with a variety of majors) was asked to decide (“to dictate”) how ten one-dollar bills were to be allocated between himself or herself and an unknown student in a different room. Each dictator was given an envelope with the funds and, under conditions of complete anonymity, was asked to make the allocation. (Everyone received five dollars just for showing up.) What happened? Women gave an average of $1.60 to an unknown partner; for men it was 82 cents. Forty-seven percent of the women and 60 percent of the men kept every cent for themselves. Almost no one could be called exceptionally generous – save one male who gave away the entire ten dollars.

One reason this article is noteworthy is that it overturned results of past allocation experiments that had seemed to favor males. In 1993, for example, researchers asked subjects to donate all or part of ten dollars to a common pool. Anything they kept was theirs, but anything placed in the pool would double in value and be divided among the group. Men were far more trusting and cooperative. In one version of the game, they gave 94 percent of their funds to the pool; females gave 72 percent.

But as Eckel and Grossman point out, the 1993 study and others like it were actually measuring risk-taking – not generosity. Men are known to be greater risk-takers than women. (Even in childhood, as play begins, males court more danger and sustain more injuries.) Also, in previous experiments, researchers had failed to protect anonymity. When females teamed up against males, males became either protective or bullying of women. The virtue of Eckel and Grossman’s study design is that it eliminated extraneous motives: the only reason to give money in their version of the game was generosity. Under those conditions women turned out to be about twice as generous as men. Moral advantage: Female.

No one seemed very surprised by this result. It was, in fact, consistent with many other surveys and studies. For example, in 1990, USA Weekend commissioned a poll on generosity and gender. Among its findings:

• 37 percent of women said they felt obligated to donate time and money to charity; for men, it was 31 percent.

• 36 percent of women feel “bad” about not giving more time to charity; for men, 25 percent.

• 56 percent of male respondents had turned down panhandlers because they “didn’t deserve it”; for women, the figure was 38 percent.

There is a voluminous literature documenting women’s greater capacity for care and empathy. In 1986, the official journal of the American Psychological Association, the Psychological Bulletin, published a review article summarizing hundreds of academic papers on “Gender and Helping Behavior.” The article confirmed what many people know from common observation: women are more nurturing and empathetic than men. It noted, for example, that “studies of friendship have found that women, to a greater extent than men, reported providing their friends [with] personal favors, emotional support, and informal counseling about personal problems.”

Being a good empathizer is not a necessary condition for generosity, but it seems to make it easier. Someone who strongly identifies with others and has a lively sense of their needs and feelings would appear to be in a better psychological position to help them than a person who is relatively oblivious to others’ mental states. Caring more does seem to entail giving more. The female advantage in empathy and care shows up very early in life. Female infants, for example, show greater distress and concern than male infants over the plight of others: this difference persists into adulthood.

Not only do women display more empathy, they also are more likely than men to list altruism as one of their life goals. For forty years, the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California (Los Angeles) has conducted an annual survey of the attitudes and preferences of college freshman. Since the mid-1960s when the survey began, the sexes have become more alike in their answers. For example, in 1966, only 30 percent of freshman females said that “being very well off financially” was essential or very important to them. For men, the 1966 figure was 53 percent – a 23-point difference. By 2004, the gap had narrowed to 3 points (72 percent of females counted financial success as essential compared to 75 percent of men). However, despite this convergence, there is one major, persistent disparity between male and female respondents that has not been affected by the dramatic social changes of the past four decades. Approximately two-thirds of women say “helping others who are in difficulty” is an essential or very important life objective, compared to only half of the men. In 2004, for example, 70 percent of female freshman identified helping others as essential; for men it was 53 percent (a 17-point gap). In 1966, the gap was nearly the same – 19 points.

Women don’t merely say they want to help others; they enter the helping and caring professions in great numbers. Most nurses, social workers, and teachers are women. Furthermore, according to data for 2003 from the United States Department of Labor, 32 percent of women performed volunteer work compared to 25 percent of men.

Experts and advocates differ on how to explain women’s greater empathy and altruism. For some, it is society that creates the female penchant for caring and for assuming the helping “role,” for others it is Mother Nature. But few deny the female lead when it comes to care and nurture. And, if the Eckel and Grossman study is right (and it comports with others, such as the poll by USA Weekend), women might be more generous than men with both their time and their money.

Of course, no one is saying that all women are caring and giving. Large numbers of females will defy the stereotype and many males will embody it. It is therefore important to keep in mind that when one attends to statistical differences between men and women as groups, one cannot make predictions about any given individual. If someone were to say that women are more likely than men to enjoy the Julia Roberts movie Mona Lisa Smile – something I don’t think many would deny – this does not mean that all women will enjoy that movie or even that a majority will.

So far, Darwin seems to be scoring points on Higgins. Women appear to be more tender, more caring – and significantly more generous. Why? Perhaps men are less ethically evolved. There is, in fact, a school of thought known as “difference feminism” (also “superiority feminism”) that valorizes women as the gentle, caring and giving nurturers of the species and that seeks ways to reform and “resocialize” selfish and fractious males. Scholars at the Wellesley Center for Research on Women, for example, have spent many years looking for ways to help males develop their suppressed tenderness. They are now investigating the possibility of actively encouraging young males to shed more tears in order to help them develop into kinder adults. As the Center’s director Susan McGee Bailey writes in a 2006 organizational statement:

“Why can’t mothers comfort their crying sons as they do their daughters? ‘Don’t baby him,’ the culture warns. Well, why not? What nurturing practices best serve boys if we want to create a world of healthy, compassionate people?”


Before we launch a national campaign to change the way we raise boys, we should carefully look at a body of evidence that suggests Henry Higgins might be onto something after all. Not all of the evidence on generosity and goodness favors females. Consider again the findings of the 1986 review article “Gender and Helping Behavior” in the Psychological Bulletin that documented the female penchant for care and nurture. The same article highlighted the special ways men show themselves, in Higgins words, to be quite “decent ... chaps ... ready to help you through any mishaps.” The authors note that while females tend to adopt nurturing and caring roles toward people they know, men excel at good deeds and acts of kindness involving strangers. If you should fall down in the subway, become stranded on the highway with a defective automobile, or need to be rescued from drowning or a fire, it is quite likely that the person who helps you will be male.

“The helping expected of men,” according to the authors, “encompasses nonroutine and risky acts of rescuing others as well as behaviors that are courteous and protective.” Sometimes these risky acts put the rescuer in mortal danger. Every year since 1904, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission awards prizes to those who risk or sacrifice their lives in an attempt to save another human being. Ninety percent of the recipients have been men. One 2005 winner, Dale L. Sayler, a forty-five-year-old bank executive from Hebron, North Dakota, happened to be driving by when he saw a van stalled on a railroad crossing with the driver trapped inside. As the train was bearing down on the van, Sayler rushed to the vehicle, forced the door open, pulled the driver out and dragged him to safety. The train crashed into the van seconds later. Another 2005 recipient was Del’Trone D. Gomilla, twenty-one, now deceased. He was at the beach in Wilbur-by-the Sea, Florida, when he saw a father and his young son in the water calling for help. He immediately rushed to help them, but was himself caught by the strong current and taken out to sea. When the lifeguards arrived, they were able to save the father and son, but Gomilla could not be revived.

Of course, men’s greater physical strength, as well as the special risks strangers pose to women, help to explain why men are more likely to, say, pick up hitchhikers, help someone with a flat tire, or drag someone out of a truck stalled on a railroad crossing. But there is a large literature suggesting that men’s behavior is also shaped by notions of honor, gallantry, and chivalry. The great nineteenth-century psychologist William James said that for men “the world is a theater for heroism.” That may be an overstatement, but it finds a lot of support in modern social science.

Sociologists make an all-important distinction between pathological and healthy masculinity. Males who exhibit pathological or deviant masculinity define their manhood through antisocial and destructive acts; instead of protecting the vulnerable, they exploit them. Healthy masculinity is the opposite. Males who possess it – the vast majority of American boys and men – strive to be helpful and to achieve. They sublimate their natural aggression into constructive pursuits. They build rather than destroy. They do not bully or harm those who are weaker than they are – they take care of them. While it is undeniably true that fewer men than women enter the helping professions such as teaching, nursing, social work, or caring for children, it is also true that men predominate in the saving, rescuing, and defending vocations such as policemen, firefighters, and soldiers. Activists who work to resocialize men and boys seem to be unaware that there is a masculine style of generosity that is every bit as necessary to the well-being of society as the female style.

What about material largesse? Contemporary political sensitivities make it difficult to obtain accurate information on gender and material largesse. In today’s research environment, it is acceptable for scholars to find women superior to men in generosity, but woe to the researcher who suggests the reverse. To give one example, a 1997 article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported, “Women are still more reluctant to part with money and tend to make smaller gifts than men do.” That journal soon found itself sharply reprimanded by the Women’s Funding Network, a partnership of women donors, for alleged “distortions” and for trading in “stereotypes.” But what if the stereotypes are true?

A 2005 analysis of federal tax data by NewTithing Group, a philanthropy research institute in San Francisco, shows that even when you control for income and assets, males still write larger checks than females. As the New York Times summarized the NewTithing findings: “The study found that single men, generally, are more generous than single women. Among the wealthiest singles, men gave 1.5 percent of assets compared with 1.1 percent for women. Wealth does not explain the disparity.”

In February of 1996, the Yale Daily News ran a story in praise of the generosity of female alumnae. When Yale became coeducational in 1968, some people worried that women would provide less financial support for the college. Not true, exclaimed the Daily News: “Generosity [is] not limited by gender.” According to the Yale Development Office, “Twenty-seven years after Yale began admitting women, the fund-raising participation levels of women alumnae equal that of male counterparts.” The article also noted that between 1971 and 1994, on average, the same percentage of males and females (41%) donated money to the college. What the article was careful not to say, however, is how much the average female graduate actually gives when compared with the average male graduate.

Because Yale had gone out of its way to highlight the munificence of its female donors, I sent a note of inquiry to its development office asking about comparisons between male and female donations. A Yale official told me that this was not public information. He added, speaking for himself and not for the university, that to get a fair picture of alumni generosity, one should look at rates of participation, not the size of donations. To do otherwise is unfair, because, in his words, “there are great differences in wealth among various groups within our society.”

It goes without saying that any reasonable study of charitable giving has to consider income and assets. But there is good evidence that when one compares the charitable giving patterns of men and women of similar means, men still give more. A study of donors to the University of California at Los Angeles in 1995-1996 found that 15,035 female graduates gave an average of $338.76; among male graduates, there were 19,178 donors whose average donation was $1,159. It is unlikely that the salary of an average UCLA male graduate is almost four times that of a female graduate. Of course, it may be that UCLA’s female graduates choose to send their charitable dollars elsewhere. But it is difficult to ignore the suggestion that when it comes to supporting one’s alma mater, males are more forthcoming.

Maddie Levitt is a celebrated female philanthropist who gave Drake University $5 million. Unlike the Yale Development Office, Levitt thinks that women of means are not doing as much as they could. As she told the Chronicle of Philanthropy, “Women are paranoid about parting with money, particularly single women.” Feminist fund-raisers are sometimes very outspoken about the special challenge facing anyone who depends on the kindness of female donors. Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founding editor of Ms. magazine, spoke candidly in a 1990 New York Times article. Yes, she said, women have fewer resources and therefore cannot be expected to give as much as men. Still, she was disappointed by the level of giving among younger professional women who earned as much as or more than their husbands. “My experience mirrors that of the alumnae fund-raiser who had trouble persuading a wealthy classmate to give $500 to Vassar the same year that woman’s husband made a $10,000 gift to Yale,” she said. “I find it’s the women who tend to think small: to many who can afford to give in the thousands, a hundred dollars still sounds like a lot of money.”

If Levitt and Pogrebin are right, and if the NewTithing study is accurate, then it would seem that, even when one takes income into account, women give less than men. No doubt administrators in the Yale Development Office are trying to be politically sensitive by focusing on the number of women who donated, ignoring the total amounts donated. But this policy could be construed as both misleading and patronizing. Levitt and Pogrebin show respect for women by being openly critical. They assume that with encouragement women of means can do as well as men. Yale seems to think they are doing their very best and should be graded on effort, not results.

What, then, are we to make of that 1998 dictator game study that provoked headlines such as: “Women Put Men to Shame in the Generosity Game”? Didn’t the experiment show that in a controlled laboratory setting, free of extraneous influences, women are twice as generous as men? Yes it did. But in a subsequent article in a 2001 issue of the Economic Journal (which is based at the Department of Economics at Harvard University), two economists, James Andreoni and Lise Vesterlund (University of Wisconsin and University of Pittsburgh, respectively) discovered that by making some small changes in the dictator game, the female advantage disappears. In the original version of the game, the participants were asked to divide the ten dollars between themselves and a stranger. But what if they were asked to make several more complicated choices in how they allocated the funds? In the Andreoni/Vesterlund version, subjects were instructed to divide a set of tokens (worth various amounts of money) between themselves and an anonymous beneficiary. They were offered eight possible strategies for allocating the funds. For example, in one allocation, the anonymous recipient would receive three times the value of the token, but the participant only its face value. Across the eight different budgets, men on average gave $2.56, women $2.60 – a statistically insignificant difference.

What the authors found is that the men were far more responsive to “price changes” in giving. “When altruism is expensive, women are kinder, when it is cheap, men are more altruistic.” They also showed how their findings (along with several other studies they cite) could have important implications for fund-raising as well as tax policy. For example, if the Internal Revenue Service were to increase the price of donating to charity by no longer allowing deductions, it is quite likely that men would react more negatively than women. (On the other hand, women could object that the present system favors male styles of giving.)

Readers who follow the literature on the dictator game should be forgiven if they don’t treat the conclusions about male and female beneficence all that seriously. It is quite likely that for years to come there will be more experiments, with ever-more-subtle changes, and the battle between the sexes will go on and on – with no clear winner in sight.

I will give the last word on gender and generosity to Tom Smith, a survey director at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (NORC). NORC sets the gold standard for survey research, and Smith is one of its most respected researchers. In 2003, Smith released the results of a study entitled “Altruism in Contemporary America.” Over a two-year period, researchers at NORC conducted in-person interviews with a random sample of 1,366 men and women across the nation. The questionnaire was designed to determine (1) the subject’s level of empathy toward others, (2) how much he or she valued acts of kindness, and (3) how many such acts each subject actually performed. Unlike many other studies of altruism, this one was not limited to a small, nonrepresentative sample of college undergraduates. Also, Smith and his team took pains to ask questions that included both male and female styles of altruism.

Once again, women proved to be more empathetic than men: they were more likely to feel pity for others and to describe themselves as soft­hearted. Females also professed more altruistic values. Just like the college women in the UCLA study, more women than men in the NORC survey strongly agreed with statements such as “personally assisting people in trouble is very important to me.” But when it came to the empirically critical measure of generosity – how much do you actually do for others – the results were different. When Smith and his colleagues tallied up the results, they found that the score was even. “Gender,” Smith concluded, “is not notably related to altruistic behaviors.” Advantage: Neither sex.

So, what, finally, may we conclude about the question of sex and generosity? We can safely say that men and women are different in their impulses and motives for giving to others. Fund-raisers and tax policy experts would be remiss not to take these differences into account.

While there is nothing wrong with encouraging males to be more empathetic and females bolder in their charitable donations, ambitious programs for resocializing children to be more like the opposite sex are ill advised and, in any case, of unproven effect. The truth – not likely to make headlines in London or San Francisco – is that both sexes have their graces and their own styles of being virtuous. Determining which sex is the more generous is like deciding which is more physically attractive: there is no objective answer. Henry Higgins and Charles Darwin take note: when it comes to generosity, the sexes are different but fundamentally equal.


Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the author of Who Stole Feminism?, The War Against Boys, and co-author of One Nation Under Therapy.

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#2 aSoldier



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Posted 03 July 2006 - 08:12 PM

I like your signature.
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