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The other gender gap less people are talking about
There's another gender gap in America that a lot less people are talking about. Researchers call it "the charity gap." - photo by JJ Feinauer
There's another gender gap in America that a lot less people are talking about. Researchers call it "the charity gap."

"Among the most reliable findings in research on the determinants of Americans charitable giving and voluntarism is the tendency for men to give less than women," researchers Robb Willer, Christopher Wimer and Lindsay A. Owens wrote in a study published earlier this year by the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality.

According to their reading of the literature, it is well-known that women are "more likely to be donors to causes that tend to benefit the poor" and therefore "tend to carry a disproportionate burden in the provision of most charitably funded public goods in the U.S."

In fact, a separate study published by the Women's Philanthropy Institute found that women of the baby boomer generation donate at sometimes up to twice the rate of boomer men.

So what gives? Why are men falling so short when it comes to charitable donations?

According to Willer, Wimer and Owens, the problem may lie in "gender differences in empathy." The gap, they argue, simply exists because men have a harder time connecting with those in need.

Men in this study come out pretty rough in general. The researchers point out that studies show men care more about things like "tax incentives, income and cost" while women "are more likely to donate anonymously and more likely to feel a responsibility to help those in need."

But there may be a solution. According to Willer, Wimer and Owens, the most effective way to get men to give is to focus on building a narrative that portrays universal suffering.

"A powerful, fundamental motive for human behavior is self-interest," the researchers said, "Given the power of self-interest, a useful way to promote costly contributions to group efforts is to emphasize how individual and collective goals are in fact one and the same."

What the researchers suggest is sort of a soft acknowledgement of what ethicists call psychological egoism, or the belief that people are motivated entirely by self-interest (this differs from the belief in ethical egoism, which argues that self-interest should be the only motivation). Of course, in this case, it's mostly men who fit the egoist bill, since women tend to show stronger signs of altruistic motivation at least when it comes to caring for the poor.

Helping affluent men to see that the pain of poverty impacts them as well may seem tricky, but it works. According to the Stanford study, emphasizing the "shared fate" of humanity helped men "to view their interests, and those of others they care about, as aligned with that of the poor."

But there is another, possibly more cynical, fix that some believe could get men parting with their cash: competition.

According to a report last week by NPR, researchers based out of the U.K. have found that when men feel a sense of competitiveness, or are striving to impress a romantic interest, they suddenly become more generous.

"Basic competitiveness is evolved and related in part to testosterone," David Geary, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Missouri, told NPR. To understand how and why men give, the U.K. researchers looked at donations to charity marathons that track and display who is giving the most.

Also, "attractive fundraisers raised more money," NPR's Maanvi Singh explained. "As did those whose profiles featured nice smiles."

Lane Anderson reported last week on similar findings. When it comes to charity, men want to feel manly, she wrote. And what's manlier than some healthy competition?
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