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Rice Research: Who’s More Generous, Men or Women?

Recent Rice University study examines the role of gender and morality in charitable giving

Vikas Research Men or Women Large PhotoIt’s a known fact that donating to meaningful causes is an important facet of American life, but how do individuals choose where to spend their charitable dollars? Results of a recent study coauthored by Rice University’s J. Hugh Liedtke Professor of Management and Marketing Professor Vikas Mittal showed that men and women take different approaches to donating based on their gender and moral identities.

The series of three studies, currently published in the August 2009 Journal of Consumer Research, examined whether men and women would donate to victims of natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and the south Asian tsunami, as well as terrorism victims in London and Iraq. “Men and women are different, but the caricatures of how we differ are wrong,” commented Dr. Mittal. “This and other new research gives us insight into how the genders make decisions about money.” 

Gender and moral identity

Research over the past several years has found that individuals with a feminine gender identity — predominantly women — are motivated by communal goals such as the welfare and nurturing of other people, while those with a masculine identity are driven by “agentic” goals, including assertiveness, control and a focus on the self. Study authors describe “moral identity” as the extent to which notions of being moral are central and important to one’s self-identity.


The studies found that women who placed a high importance on being moral gave equally to victims of the south Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. Men who believed strongly in morality, on the other hand, were more inclined to donate to Katrina victims only. When it came to victims of terrorism, women gave to victims in both London and Iraq, while men donated only to the London group.

“In terms of donations, we found that women expand their circle outward,” said Mittal. “They tend to view victims of the tsunami as much a part of the ‘in-group’ as people suffering after Katrina, who are actually much closer to home. Men were willing to donate to Katrina victims but considered the tsunami victims members of the ‘out-group.’ With the terrorism studies, women considered victims of both London and Iraq attacks as members of their circle, while men expanded their group only as far as those injured in London.”

Relevance to non-profit organizations

“This information is particularly relevant to fundraisers and non-profit leaders,” commented Mittal. “Although it would mean more time and effort, creating communications pieces that target men and women separately should have a positive impact on their donations.”

Dr. Mittal has long been interested in examining how men and women make financial choices and how new science is helping us understand the differences in psychology between the genders. A 2008 study on gender and investing found that women are generally more conservative and seek to minimize losses, while men tend to take greater investment risks with the hope of maximizing gains.

“Women are more nurturing,” commented Mittal. “This orientation creates differences in how they take risk, communicate, donate and approach other aspects of their lives. These are not biological differences. They are based on psychology and on the different things that women learn to value in socialization process.”

For a copy of the complete study, or to arrange an interview with Mittal, contact Julia Nguyen at 713-348-5387 or

Karen Page Winterich, Vikas Mittal, and William T. Ross, Jr. “Donation Behavior toward In-Groups and Out-Groups: The Role of Gender and Moral Identity.” Journal of Consumer Research, August 2009.

Karen page Winterich is assistant professor of marketing, Mays Business School, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas. Vikas Mittal is J. Hugh Liedtke professor of marketing and management, Jones Graduate School of Business, Rice University, Houston, Texas. William T. Ross is Smeal Research Fellow and professor of marketing, Smeal College of Business, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania.