Gendered giving: the influence of social norms on the donation behaviour of men and women

This reading studies about the different influences when determining the level of charitable giving of men and women.

In 2007, America, $229 billion from the total amount of $306.39 billion donated to charity came from individuals and households (Giving USA, 2008). However, many non-profit organisations still has difficulties in obtaining funds. Previous literature, journals and elsewhere continue to address the challenge to increasing donations.

Descriptive social norms will be focused in this study and it specifies what is typically done in a given setting (what most people do).  Two sets of mechanism, self-verification and self-presentation, are identified through which descriptive norms affect behaviour. Previous research demonstrated that men are more likely to react to norms if it reinforces self-verification of being generous while women reacts more when it reinforces good relationship with others.

  • Self-verification (“Self-focused”)
    • Highlights the important function of self-focused mechanisms in guiding people’s behaviour (Lecky, 1945)
    • Individuals have a certain self-concept and they choose their behaviour to sustain this concept
  • Self-presentation (“Relationship-focused”)
    • People conform to social norms to maintain a good relationship with the social groups endorsing the norms
    • Individuals give in order to develop and maintain their relationship with the organisation’s leadership, their peer group who values the organisation or its beneficiaries

In this research we focus on how social norms influence donation levels to non-profit organisations, and how this influence varies by gender.

  1. The first study will be conducted using the method of surveys targeted at a set of active and recently lapsed donors to a public radio station.
  2. The second study would be in a laboratory setting to investigate whether male and female react differently to the social norms created by an experimental scenario, designed to be parallel to the fundraising environment from the first study.

First Study: Field Study – Donor Survey

  • Data collected in the environment of public radio fundraising
  • Surveys were included with the renewal mails and sent to members who would receive the renewals letter during the month of August 2003 (randomly selected)
  • 394 respondents were selected; 168 males and 226 females
  • Three dependent variables  are being examined; the donations in the year preceding and the year following the survey and the average of these two values
  • Results show that men are more influenced by descriptive norms than are women
  • Findings supports the theory of self-focused dominates relation-focused mechanisms
  • Results provides support that the sustaining and creation of self-concepts is the motivation that determine the level of giving in the context of fund raising

Second Study: Experimental Study

  • To examine the influence of social information on descriptive norms and the subsequent effect on contributing behaviour of men and women
  • Descriptive social norms  is being manipulated in this study by providing social information to the participants
  • Social information has been previously shown to influence descriptive social norms (Croson et al., 2009)
  • Two versions of a scenario study are randomly assigned to participants
    •  First scenario, ‘you’ve called the radio station and made a contribution of $25 and in the call, you were told that another station member had contributed only $10 (contributed lesser than the participant, $10 vs $25)
    • Second scenario, the participant was told that another station member had contributed $50 (contributed more than the participant, $50 vs $25)
  • Participants are next asked how much they think and average station listener would contribute and how much they would contribute in the next year
  • Findings shows that descriptive social norms influence contributions overall but this effect is primarily driven by men
  • Women’s decisions are not significantly related to their belief about the social norm
  • Results shown are consistent  and confirms the results obtained in the field survey


The study demonstrates the overall effect of descriptive norms on charity giving is primarily a result of the behaviour of men. Males giving are significantly related to their beliefs about the descriptive social norms which are in contrast with the females. It shows that self-focused mechanics dominates relationship-focused in charitable giving.

My Views

I think that this study can be further carried out with different scenarios to find out more why males are more affected on self-focused mechanics than females to give a better understanding and analysis.  Research can also be carried out to find out what are the factors, mechanics, social norms that will affect females in charitable giving as this study is unable to provide us with.

What do you think of the influences on determining the level of charitable giving of men and women in this study? Are there any other factors which affect the level of charitable giving of different genders?


Croson, R. T., Handy F. & Shang J. (2010). Gendered giving: the influence of social norms on the donation behaviour of men and women. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 15, 199-213.



7 comments so far

  1. slky87 on

    What do you think of the influences on determining the level of charitable giving of men and women in this study?

    I think that the influences are high especially in men. The results from the field and experimental studies have shown that self-focused mechanism dominates the relationship-focused mechanism. In layman’s term, it means that ‘face’ value is more influential than the rest in human; especially men.

    According to merinews (2008), men are oppressed by social norms such as men are strong and have no weaknesses. Therefore, the studies conducted in the reading have proven the theories on the effects of descriptive social norms on men; men should make more charitable contribution than their female counterparts as they are more powerful.

    Are there any other factors which affect the level of charitable giving of different genders?

    Some factors that might affect the level of charitable giving are age, income level and education level. More of this can be found in the research done by Statistics Canada (see below).

    • agneslpy on

      I agree with you too and the others’ comments on this post that man are easily affected by social norms. Issues that are dealing with status or ‘face’, as mentioned, are deemed as more important compared to women. Men tend to ‘follow’ what others are doing in order to maintain/increase their status.

      Women on the other hand are more emotional as mentioned in the few comments below. In the experiment, it has also shown that women tend to donate to reinforce relationships compared to men which are for self-verification. With the aim of reinforcing relationships, it shows that women consider the emotional aspect as a factor which determines the act of charitable giving.

      I definitely agree with you as well of considering the age, income and educational levels as factors of affecting the level of charitable giving. Many experiments can be carried out focusing on different aspects to give a more in depth research on this topic.

  2. snowkinz on

    regarding this, i feel that the factor of emotions can also be looked into. Women are more emotional than men and they sympathize easily with the charity cause. when they sympathize, they will donate.

    of course if cant be the detrimental factor that lead to the higher number of doners among genders, but it can be looked into.

  3. tarrycher on

    Yes, I do agree with snowkinz that one major factor that differ women with men is in their emotion aspect. A study posted by ScienceDaily indicated that men are more likely to donate to the person closest to them, such as neighborhood and country, while women are more likely to donate to person closest to them as well as a needy person in a foreign country. By donating to people near to them, men are able to maintain their self-verification of being generous while women are more sympathize towards people both close and far away from them as they are more emotional.

  4. leothg on

    I agree that men are easily affected by descriptive norms, which refer to the beliefs about what is actually done by most people in one’s social group. Men tends follow on the behaviors of others in their social group, for example in the case you provided above.

    In my own opinion, i think one of the reasons for this behavior is because men have a higher ego and pride than women. ‘If other people are doing donating, i have to donate as well’, with this kind of mentality, they will make the donations in order to ‘save face’, and to blend in with their social groups.

    Women however, rely on their emotions, that is why they are more receptive towards injunctive norms, which refers to beliefs of what should be done.

  5. durianshellsLeon on

    As many of the others have commented, many reports give evidence that women who are more of the emotional animals tend to give more to charity than men. Men tend to do it for the status, for their names to appear on a building as compared to women who are more compassionate. Men are more concerned about being approved, being popular within their group. Women are more empathetic and caring.

    There are evidences that women across nearly every income level tend to give significantly more than men. In some circumstances, double as much.
    ( So much so that, the American Red Cross added a donor group just for females in 2005 but has no considerations for a male group.
    Charity should focus their marketing strategies and priorities more on the women for better effectiveness.

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