Gender inequality is depriving the world of its most generous donors

Future World Giving

Gender and giving, Future World Giving – image by roens via Flickr

The 2013 World Giving Index data suggests that if gender inequality was eradicated, women would give significantly more generously to charitable causes than men.


Gender and development


It is an incontrovertible fact that tackling gender inequality is crucial to international development. Quite apart from the fact that advancing equality is morally right, it can be shown to drive improvements on a wide range of economic and human development indicators. In fact, many economists (and the World Bank) see tackling gender inequality as fundamental to Smart Economics.


Unequal access to education remains a problem in many nations but it has been shown that when girls are educated, their families are healthier, they have fewer children, they wed later, and they have more opportunities to generate income. Elimination of barriers against women working in certain sectors or occupations could increase output by raising women’s participation and labour productivity by as much as 25 percent in some countries through better allocation of their skills and talent.


Empowering women as economic, political, and social actors can change policy choices and make institutions more representative of a range of voices. In India, giving power to women at the local level led to greater provision of public goods, such as water and sanitation. When women have access to resources there is evidence that they are more likely than men to allocate them in ways which benefit children, who grow up to be more healthy, better educated and economically productive themselves.


Building a culture of charitable giving


A generally agreed, though too often under-appreciated factor in development is the importance of a vibrant civil society. When not-for-profit organisations enjoy the support and engagement of local people they can drive development by pooling resources, delivering much needed services and by advancing causes and holding decision makers to account.


With the OECD projecting that the number of middle class people will grow by 165% by 2030, and that much of that growth will occur in emerging economies, it is crucial that we create an enabling environment in which a culture of giving can flourish. Our “Unlocking the Potential of Global Philanthropy” report estimates that if the expanding global middle class were to give the same proportion of their income to charity as people currently do in the United Kingdom (0.4 percent) middle class donors would generate $224 billion a year by 2030.


Mutually reinforcing concerns


Whilst no factor affecting development exists in isolation, one might at first glance assume that whilst separately important, charitable giving and gender inequality are only very loosely linked. In fact, I would contend that there is a strong case to say that they are mutually reinforcing and that by failing to see the evolution of a culture of giving in terms of gender, we are missing the opportunity to help women and girls to drive socio-economic and environmental progress and empower themselves in the process.


So what does the data say. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there appears to be a negative relationship between charitable giving and gender inequality. Poverty is a barrier to progress against a wide range of indicators so causation is difficult to demonstrate. In general, poor countries have higher rates of inequality and lower rates of giving (with some notable exceptions). However, a deeper look into the data of the 2013 World Giving Index, a global survey of charitable activity, reveals that tackling gender inequality in engagement in charitable activities could be particularly fruitful in advancing development.


Globally, women are more generous than men when it comes to donating money to charity. This fact is not new, but it is worth repeating. Globally, 29.6% of women donate money to charity compared to 28.7% of men. 18.8% of women volunteer and 46.2% help a stranger every month giving them a combined World Giving Index Score of 31.5%. Men score 21.6% and 48.9% respectively for volunteering time and helping a stranger giving them a World Giving Index Score of 33.1%. So already we can see that there is a logical benefit in terms of resourcing civil society in engaging women and girls. But the case gets even stronger when we look at what happens in countries where gender inequality has been eroded.”


Here is the kicker. In countries where women experience the least inequality (no nation is equal) according to the United Nations Development Programmes Gender Inequality Index, their giving far exceeds that of men. In the top ten countries in terms of gender equality, 53% of women give money to charity compared to 46% of men. Across all three World Giving Index measures (including volunteering and helping a stranger) women outscore men by 3 percentage points. So in terms of giving money to charity, the more equal society is, the more women outperform men in terms of their generosity.


Future World Giving

2013 World Giving Index data and Gender Inequality Index data


But this female premium in philanthropy is not just important because it presents increased opportunities for fundraising, it is also important because participation in civil society gives women agency. Not-for-profits are at their best when they are representing the marginalised. The engagement of women and girls in charitable activity can shape civil society in a way which challenges bigotry and misogyny and builds consensus at the grassroots for tackling inequality.


The Future World Giving project focuses on the potential for mass engagement in charitable giving to drive development and create fairer, more resilient societies. If we do bring about a future where the generosity of ordinary people is harnessed for collective good, it appears that women will have played a disproportionate part.


Adam Pickering



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