home icon

Boomer Women Give More to Charity Than Men

The author of a new landmark study explains why women are more generous than men

By Debra J. Mesch, Ph.D. | August 29, 2012
Contributor Photo

Debra J. Mesch, Ph.D., is director of the Women's Philanthropic Studies at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and author of several studies on the role of gender in philanthropy.

A recent Next Avenue article reported that boomers are more charitable than any other generation. Now, a new study from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University (where I am the director) answers the questions: Which boomers are more charitable, men or women — and why?
 
Boomers and Charitable Giving

Our report, Women Give 2012, found that women of the baby boom and older generations give 89 percent more to charity than their male counterparts when education, income and other factors affecting giving are equal.
 
And among those in the top 25 percent of “permanent” income (total household resources available for consumption and charitable donations), boomer and older women give over 1.5 times more to charity than boomer and older men.
 
(MORE: Giving Circles)
 
The study is among the first to examine the combined effects of age and gender on charitable giving. It is based on data from 2003 to 2007 tracking 1,109 male and female single-headed households born in 1964 or earlier.
 
The results of the survey might seem illogical: After all, women in general earn less, spend less time in the labor force, and have less money in retirement than men. They also have a greater life expectancy. You might think that all those factors would make women less interested in making charitable donations than men.
 
But since boomer women give more than boomer men — even when the women have concerns about their financial security — the study helps contradict current misperceptions and demonstrates that gender plays an important role in philanthropy.
 
Why Boomer Women Are More Generous

What accounts for female philanthropy?
 
For one thing, women are socialized to be the caregivers of their families and communities. Previous research has also found that women tend to score higher on empathy and caring than men — factors that affect giving to charity. Similarly, women have been shown to be more altruistic than men, and their giving is frequently motivated by the desire to make a difference in peoples’ lives.    
 
Charlotte Beyer, who recently retired as CEO of the Institute for Private Investors, a firm she founded in 1991, identifies with the new Women Give 2012 study.
 
“As a baby boomer myself, once I began to make significant money in my career — I would not have even had the opportunity 10 years earlier! — I awakened to new possibilities in giving,” she says. “At first, I was astonished at my own capability to make a difference with my dollars in the mid- to late ‘90s, and now I realize I can even have a small foundation. What a joy! I believe there are many women of my generation who benefited from the women’s movement, and now, in our retirement years, women like me are expanding our horizons and imagining even more bold endeavors in philanthropy.” 
 
Women Launch New Ways to Give

Boomer women are transforming philanthropy in unprecedented ways. They are creating innovative new nonprofits and networks, and recruiting other women to give and volunteer.
 
(MORE: Tool: Find Volunteer Opportunities)
 
For instance, boomer women launched Women Moving Millions, raising $182 million from 2007 to 2009. This was accomplished through million-dollar gifts from women to organizations and initiatives supporting the advancement of women and girls around the world.
 
Three of the five most powerful women changing the world with philanthropy are boomers, according to fashion designer and philanthropist Tory Burch, who founded the Tory Burch Foundation, dedicated to the empowerment of women and families. They are Catherine Muther, founder and president of Three Guineas Fund, a grant-making foundation; Diana Taylor, managing director of Wolfensohn & Co. and chair of microfinance pioneer ACCION; and Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO of Acumen Fund, a venture capital fund.
 
To help women learn more about their power to transform the world, or their corner of it, this fall the Women’s Philanthropy Institute is hosting an online conference, She Makes Change, exploring the connections among women, money and philanthropy.