It has been long debated about which gender is more selfish when it comes to charitable donations. According to research conducted by economist and expert of philanthropy John List of University of Chicago, women are less likely to donate to a charitable cause if there’s an opt-out option. List states the study tested people’s motivations to give, whether they responded to social pressure or from an attitude of altruism.
To conduct the study, researchers went door-to-door to raise money for a local children’s hospital and an out-of-state environmental organization. In one part of the study, visits were unannounced. In two other parts of the study, people received fliers either announcing the solicitation the following day or giving people an opportunity to opt-out of the visit. “The simple flier lowers the share of people answering the door, relative to the people who did not have warning of the visit, but it does not affect the share of people giving,” says List. “The opt-out option lowers both the share of people answering the door and the share of individuals giving.” The drop in women’s giving largely drives this change, List explains.
The results of the study reveal that women were more likely at the margin of giving to a charitable cause, and therefore more likely to opt-out if they had a chance. During the study, approximately three percent of women and men gave money when the visit was unannounced. When allowed to opt-out, men’s giving dropped slightly, while women’s giving fell to about half of the level of previous giving. “We need more study on this issue, but it could be that women are more sensitive to social cues than are men, and that is why they are more likely to give in situations where they don’t have an easy way to avoid a donation, such as when they are asked for a donation face-to-face,” List says.
Researchers also considered attributing women’s lack of interest in giving to an unannounced visitor for safety concerns, but List doesn’t believe that can be attributed to the woman’s decision. “We found that in an unannounced visit, women are just as likely to open the door and give as men,” he says. If security were a particularly strong concern among women, the gender differences would have appeared among the people who were contacted unannounced, he says.