'Empathy Gap' Leads Men to Give Less to Poverty Relief, Study Finds

Although men are less willing than women to support poverty relief efforts, they are more likely to give when a shared interest is at stake, a study by Stanford University researchers finds.

The report, What Drives the Gender Gap in Charitable Giving? Lower Empathy Leads Men to Give Less to Poverty Relief (45 pages, PDF), found that, compared with women, men reported less willingness to give either time or money to a hypothetical poverty-relief organization; that men demonstrated lower levels of empathic concern as measured on a seven-point scale derived from answers to a questionnaire; and that empathy is significantly and positively related to respondents' reported willingness to donate or volunteer. Older and African-American men demonstrated greater empathy, while African-American men and women consistently were more willing to contribute both time and money to anti-poverty efforts, irrespective of their political ideology or past levels of giving.

Published in Social Science Research, the study also found that when the charity's appeal for support emphasized "aligned self-interest" — in this case, the argument that "poverty weighs down our interconnected economy, exacerbating many social problems like crime" — men reported significantly greater willingness to give, at levels comparable to women. In contrast, messaging strategies that emphasized the charity's efficacy, appealed to a potential donor's sense of social conformity, or highlighted the injustice of the poor's lack of opportunity had no effect on men's willingness to give.

"The baseline effect is for men to give less due to lower empathy," said Robb Willer, an associate professor of sociology who led the study. "But the 'aligned self-interest' pitch changed men's giving, making them give more than they otherwise would." At the same time, women who were exposed to the same "aligned self-interest" appeal were somewhat less willing to volunteer their time to poverty relief efforts. "It had the opposite effect for women," said Willer, "who might have felt less motivated to express concern about poverty when doing so seemed inconsistent with feeling empathy for the poor."

"Stanford Study: How to Encourage Men to Give to the Poor." Stanford University Press Release 02/09/2015.