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FRIDAY, March 13, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Changing the message of charitable appeals could help close the gender gap in giving, researchers suggested.
Research shows men can be tightwads when asked to donate money (or time) to a poverty relief organization, according to the Stanford University researchers.
Unlike women, who respond to empathy-based pleas, men are more likely to make a charitable donation if they believe their own personal interests are linked to a specific cause, the researchers found.
After polling 1,715 people, the researchers found "aligned self-interest" appeals, which focus on overall societal concerns like crime, are more likely to prompt men to give.
"The baseline effect is for men to give less due to lower empathy, but the 'aligned self-interest' pitch changed men's giving, making them give more than they otherwise would," said study leader Robb Willer, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford.
"Men reported significantly greater willingness to give, contributing at levels comparable to women," he noted in a university news release. "No other message frames were effective in increasing men's reported willingness to give or volunteer."
For the study, which was published recently in the journal Social Science Research, the researchers conducted an online survey to investigate why men and women donate their time or money to charities. Specifically, they examined how feelings of empathy affected those decisions.
After considering appeals from a hypothetical cause, dubbed the Coalition to Reduce Poverty, participants were selected at random to read one of five appeals for donations. The appeals, which all took a different approach, included:
- Efficacy: "More than 98 percent of donations go on to directly benefit the poor."
- Conformity: "The poor are now being helped by record numbers of charitable givers across the country."
- Injustice: People "born into poverty never had the other opportunities that other Americans had."
- Aligned self-interest: "Poverty weighs down our interconnected economy, exacerbating many social problems like crime."
- A general request for donations.
Overall, the men polled had less empathy, which made them less willing to contribute to the charity than the women, the survey showed. The only message that closed this gender gap was the "aligned self-interest" appeal.
The study found that this "aligned self-interest" approach worked because it increased men's concern for poverty.
However, this appeal had the opposite effect on women, the researchers said. This message left women less willing to donate their time for poverty relief since it seemed inconsistent with feeling empathy for the poor, they explained.
In addition to gender differences, the survey showed that blacks were consistently more willing than other demographic groups to volunteer their time or donate money.
The study's authors said their findings are important because American society tends to rely on nongovernmental organizations for providing relief to the poor.
-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
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SOURCE: Stanford University, news release, March 11, 2015