Women across nearly every income level gave significantly more to charity than men, nearly twice as much in some cases, according to a study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
Nonprofits have long suspected that women were the driving forces behind many of the gifts they receive, but they haven't had much proof. But the results of this study are so decisive and consistent, they can stop wondering, said Debra Mesch, director of the university's Women's Philanthropy Institute.
The study offered several factors the researchers thought contributed to the growing generosity of women: More women are working and their incomes have grown, more have college degrees that yield greater earning power, and the percentage of women who make more money than their working husbands is now about 26 percent.
The study released Thursday found women give more in every income bracket except one: Those with incomes of between $23,509 and $43,500.
The data used for the study was not broken down by gender, so researchers looked solely at households headed by single men or single women, including adults who have been divorced, widowed or never married. They looked at the donating patterns of about 8,000 American households.
Previous research has shown that women encourage their husbands to give to charity and that women seem to be making a lot of charitable decisions in married households, but it's difficult to get hard data on those trends.
"I think the general assumption is that women might be more likely to give, but that they give less money," Mesch said.
That assumption is only half true, according to the analysis of data from a 2007 Center on Philanthropy study. Women gave more often than men and spread out their giving to different charities, but they also give more in total dollars, Mesch said.
"It's going to be a wake-up call that I better pay attention to women," Mesch said.
Suzie Upton, chief development officer of the American Heart Association, said her organization had no data showing women are more generous donors than men, even though the Dallas-based nonprofit targets women in its fundraising campaigns.
"We target lots of our efforts to women, not because they are more generous, but because they are the decision makers for themselves and for their families," Upton said.
World Vision, a Federal Way, Wash.-based nonprofit, was not surprised by the results of the study. It has known for decades that its target donor is a 47-year-old, college-educated female, said spokesman John Yeager.
For 20 years, World Vision has had a female-only donor group called Women of Vision. In the 2010 fiscal year, about 3,000 members of the group donated a total of $7 million to World Vision, with an average gift of $2,000, said Cynthia Breilh, the donor group's national director.
The American Red Cross also has targeted women for bigger gifts throughout its history, but added a donor group just for women in 2005.
Nearly 600 women across the country give at least $10,000 a year through the Washington, D.C.-based organization's Tiffany Circle, said its volunteer co-chair, Elaine Lyerly of Charlotte, N.C.
The Red Cross, which does most of its fundraising around disasters, decided it needed a stable base of donations and formed the Tiffany Circle. Lyerly said the organization has no special donor groups for men and does not plan to add one.
"Women have been incredibly generous, and they want to make a difference," Lyerly said, referring both to her organization and philanthropy in general. "Women are the conduit for change on the planet."
Lyerly, however, was curious about one finding of the Indiana University study that didn't make sense to her: Never married and divorced women were more likely to give, and to give more money than males of the same marital status, but widowers gave more money to charity than widows.
"That really surprised me," she said. "I wonder if it's because the women influenced the men before they died."
Women's Philanthropy Institute: http://www.philanthropy.iupui.edu/womensphilanthropyinstitute/
World Vision: http://www.worldvision.org
American Heart Association: http://www.americanheart.org
American Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org