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The Philanthropy of Women

January 27, 2009

woman_with_money4Two recent articles discuss women’s new  ability and willingness to be philanthropic.  A review of the latest IRS data yielded some surprising results.   Women now control more wealth than men and give more than men.  

According to the Federal Reserve, women now control 51.3% of the wealth in the United States.  And, they seem to be very interseted in putting it to philanthropic use.

A September 15, 2008 Business Wire article  states that gifts from women topped those from men by almost $5 billion in 2005, the last year for which the IRS includes gender information in its publicly available gift tax return data. That’s a reversal from the ratio in the IRS’s last study of gender in 1997, when men gave $17.6 billion in gifts and women gave only $14.7 billion.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, women given in very different ways than men.  A post on the Philantopic blog, highlights the efforts of Women Moving Millions  as an example of the the tremendous success women have had and are having in philanthropy.

I wonder if this phenomena is present in the South Asian community as well.  My hunch is  that it’s very similar – South Asian women engage in more philanthropy and volunteerism than South Asian men.  Why this difference exists and how this plays out in invidual households are interesting questions.  We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Masum Momaya permalink
    February 3, 2009 8:46 pm

    As much as I’ve been guilty, like many of us, of jumping on the gender-stereotyping bandwagon, I think it’s worth asking a few questions before drawing any conclusions: Which Women? And What Kind of Philanthropy?

    For example, it’s unlikely that many women of color are included in that sample that was surveyed by the IRS. And, if I’m not mistaken (and I know the organizers) Women Moving Millions is primarily made of Caucasian women with inherited wealth.

    In the South Asian community, there are many different kinds of women philanthropists: young, single professional women in their 20s & 30s; FT or PT formally employed or “stay-at-home” women with children in the 30s & 40s and women in the 50s & 60s who are married to private sector executives and managers but don’t work in the paid workforce themselves, to name just a few archetypal groups. These women may or may not differ in their philanthropy from their male counterparts.

    “Philanthropy” itself can take many forms: making an online donation to a cause or campaign, buying a ticket to a fundraising event, organizing a drive to collect goods to send as humanitarian or disaster relief aid, volunteering at a local school, library, worship place or other non-profit organization, being a major contributor/seed donor in a capital campaign or making fundraising appeals.

    At the end of the day, although an aggregate statistic that reflects women’s giving or control of wealth might turn some heads and inspire others to give (and I’m not discounting these things!), philanthropy is about impact and social change. I think we can’t begin to measure these things unless we understand the diversity of women in our community and their forms of, motivations for and challenges to giving.

  2. guptavenu permalink*
    February 5, 2009 1:50 pm

    Hi Masum, thanks for your great comment. I agree that we can’t turn to one statistic to provide information and answers about the giving of women. I also agree that the statistics cited are probably based on the a very specific demographic, and we can’t draw conclusions about the role all women in United States play in giving and philanthropy. I, myself, however, am inclined to believe that the statistics point to some kind of correlation between women attaining wealth and women choosing to give. My hunch is that this would be true across racial and gender lines, assuming we used a broad definition for what defines giving.

    Now whether South Asian women give “more” than South Asian men is a fair and important question. I suppose I am guilty of some stereotyping and drawing general conclusion from my own experiences. Clearly, we need more information.

    I hope SAPP and others can act as a catalyst for research on these very important issues!

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