Parents of firstborn boys and only-child girls give more, Women's Philanthropy Institute study finds

  • Nov. 10, 2015

EMBARGOED UNTIL 1 P.M., Nov. 10, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS -- Parents' charitable giving is affected by the sex of their first child, according to a new report released today by the Women's Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, located on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus.

"The sex of the firstborn child affects the likelihood that the parents will give to charity, the amount they give, and the types of causes and organizations they support," said Debra Mesch, the Eileen Lamb O'Gara Chair in Women's Philanthropy and director of WPI. "This is an important factor influencing charitable giving that was previously unknown."

The study provides the first evidence that the sex of the firstborn child influences the parents' giving. In addition, the researchers found that the firstborn's sex affects the giving for parents in two-parent families, but not in single-parent families.

Among other key findings of the "Women Give 2015" study are:

  • Parents who have a firstborn son and have two or more children are more likely to give, and they give 14.3 percent larger amounts than people whose firstborn child is a daughter.
  • Parents who have a daughter who is an only child are more likely to give to charity, and they give 20.3 percent higher amounts than parents of a son who is an only child.
  • People whose only child is a daughter give more to education and basic needs.
  • People whose firstborn child is a son give more to education, youth and family services.

"Research in several fields has examined how the sex of a child affects parents' behavior, but this is the first study to ask this question about philanthropy," said Mark Otttoni-Wilhelm, the co-principal investigator and professor of economics and philanthropic studies at IUPUI. "Finding that the sex of the child does have an impact on the parents' philanthropy is one of those special moments of discovery."

Many previous studies have found that parents influence their children's generosity. The new research expands that sphere of influence to include children's effect on their parents' generosity. The researchers found that the children's effect was shaped by other family characteristics, including the number of children, the partnership status of the parents (partnered or not), the parents' partnership history and whether any children are still living at home.

"Today, there is more knowledge than ever about the effect gender has on philanthropy," said Amir Pasic, the Eugene R. Tempel Dean of the school. "Even so, research has barely begun to scratch the surface. The 'Women Give' series uncovers key insights, including this latest revelation, that are helping to advance understanding of the complex role gender plays in influencing how and why women and men give."

"Women Give 2015" is the sixth in a series of signature research reports conducted at the Women's Philanthropy Institute that focus on gender differences in giving to charitable organizations. Previous reports have examined differences between male- and female-headed households, looking at gender differences in charitable giving across income levels, marital status, age/generation and types of charitable organizations receiving the giving.

"Women Give 2014" investigated the nexus of religiosity, gender and giving. "Women Give 2013" assessed whether the gender differences observed in adult charitable giving begin to emerge at younger ages. The reports find significant gender differences in philanthropic behavior. The "Women Give" reports are available online.

About the Women's Philanthropy Institute

The Women's Philanthropy Institute increases understanding of women's philanthropy through rigorous research and education, interpreting and sharing these insights broadly to improve philanthropy. By addressing significant and groundbreaking research questions and translating that research into increased understanding and improvements in practice, the Women's Philanthropy Institute helps to leverage new and expanded resources for the common good. Learn more. Follow us on Twitter @WPIinsights and "Like" us on Facebook.

About the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is dedicated to improving philanthropy to improve the world by training and empowering students and professionals to be innovators and leaders who create positive and lasting change. The school offers a comprehensive approach to philanthropy through its academic, research and international programs and through The Fund Raising School, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving and the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. Learn more. Follow us on Twitter @IUPhilanthropy and "Like" us on Facebook.

'Women Give 2015' findings

'Women Give 2015' findings

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Adriene Davis Kalugyer
Diane Brown