11/01/2010 06:11 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Whether Women are more Generous than Men, and Whether it Matters

The Women's Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy just released a study showing that women give more to charity than men -- both more frequently and more generously when controlled for income.

Specifically, women who make $23,509 or less (Q1) are 28 percent more likely to give than men; women who make $23,509 -- $43,500 (Q2) are 32 percent more likely to give; women who make $43,5000 -- $67,532 (Q3) are 49 percent more likely to give than men; women who make $67,532 -- $103,000 (Q4) are 43 percent more likely to give than men; and women who make +$103,000 (Q5) are 26 percent more likely to give than men.

In every income group except for Q2, women give more than men. In Q1, women give 92 percent more (or almost twice as much) than men; in Q3, women give 95 percent more (or almost twice as much) than men; in Q4, women give almost 45 percent more (or almost one and a half times more) than men; and in Q5, women give 94 percent more (or almost twice as much) than men.

The study's authors resist the temptation to make bold claims about why this is the case, though they note that generosity tends to increase with education and that women now earn more than half of all bachelor's degrees. Generosity also increases with income, and more women are employed now, and therefore earning their own income, than ever before. But even controlling for income, education and wealth, in what principal investigator Debra Mesch calls "pure terms," women are the more generous half of the population.

[Digression: Women now make 80 cents for each male dollar. This represents an increase from 62 cents in 1979, at which rate we'll achieve wage parity in 2043. Only the most ridiculously strident feminists regard this as a problem.]

The new study's results comport with the trend to focus overseas aid on women because they're more likely than men to spend surplus income on their families instead of themselves. Mesch is unsurprised: "I think that's an international phenomenon, that women are the caregivers and nurturers; they have more of those prosocial behaviors."

What makes this more than a parlor game demonstrating female superiority is the extent to which it reveals the role of empathy in giving. Just as poor people give a greater proportion of their income to charity than rich people -- presumably because they know how it feels to be on the needing side of the give-and-need equation -- so women may give more generously because we know what it's like to be dependent. Women are less likely to imagine that having been born on third base means we hit a triple; and the feminist mantra that every woman is one divorce away from welfare makes most of us acutely aware that there but for the grace of God go I.

Part II of the study, to be released in a few months, will address gender differences in the kind of charities supported: secular or religious? Large or small? Do women's gifts go to keeping charities operating, while men's go to bricks and mortar on which they can carve their names?

Stay tuned.