Women, it seems, are more likely than men to give to overseas causes, says a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. According to the paper’s authors, Karen Page Winterich, Vikas Mittal and William T. Ross Jr., men prefer to give to causes closer to home, when offered the choice between donating to victims of Hurricane Katrina or the Asian Tsunami.
Apparently we all tend to be a bit selfish but, say the authors, while men instinctively care most about themselves, women’s nurturing instincts cause them to care more about family and friends as well (what they call the ‘in-group’ of one’s close community). However, they go on to say, a strong ‘moral identity’ encourages some of us to widen out the range of people we care about. Among men, who innately care only for themselves, those with a strong sense of moral identity tend to extend their care from just themselves to their close community (the ‘in-group’). For women, who are innately less selfish and already care about the ‘in-group’, having a strong moral identity causes them to extend their care to people beyond their community, hence their concern for people overseas, known as the ‘out-group’.
So what does this tell us about the surge in interest among donors for causes in the developing world?
Since women are still not well represented among the rankings of the mega-rich, with honourable exceptions such as Oprah Winfrey, a rise in women donors probably cannot explain the trend for higher giving to the developing world. Yet perhaps it is a consequence of a change in the relationship between rich men and their wives? Bill Gates, for one, is always keen to stress that Melinda is an equal partner in their foundation; is it her feminine influence that has lifted his gaze from US causes to eradicating diseases like malaria? Maybe. Likewise, Jamie Cooper-Hohn at CIFF – though the philanthropic seed was probably planted in her hedge-fundie husband, Chris, when he saw extreme poverty first hand whilst traveling in the Philippines as a student.
To be fair, the new study does not claim to explain the choices of super-rich philanthrocapitalists, since it is based largely on students making hypothetical choices about where to give relatively small amounts of money. However, one factor that the paper alludes to may be an influence on super-rich as well as ordinary donors: that the sense of an ‘in-group’ (Katrina victims) and an ‘out-group’ (tsunami victims) is not fixed but is shaped by our connection to those people. So, as we learn more about another group of people, we may come to see them as part of our ‘in-group’ rather than our ‘out-group’.
As we point out in the book, successful entrepreneurs in a global economy are more likely to be well travelled than, well, your average congressman. As a result, they are probably more likely to see the needs of people overseas as those of their ‘in-group’. Peer pressure and the work of lobbying organisations such as the One Campaign have probably also helped to make donors more aware and more concerned about the needs of Africa, in particular.
The authors’ advice to fundraisers for causes such as the tsunami is to “reposition the donation group as an in-group rather than an out-group so that individuals are more likely to include the donation group in the self.” The leaders of what we call ‘mass philanthrocapitalism’ have already understood this and have developed new tools to build a connection between donor and recipient. It is this relationship that lies at the heart of the success of kiva.org, for example, where a lender in, say, London is directly connected to a micro-credit customer of his or her choice in Lusaka. Happily, the internet is making possible many more such connections.