With so many worthy charities soliciting donations, the researchers wanted to understand how people make these critical decisions.
“We gave people in the United States $5 that they could allocate to Hurricane Katrina victims, Indian Ocean tsunami victims, or themselves,” explain the authors of the study.
“On average, people kept $1.10 for themselves and donated the rest. However, the actual amount donated to each charity depended on people’s gender and moral identity.”
The authors described moral identity as the extent to which being moral, fair, and just is part of someone’s self-identity.
Gender identity (which generally correlates with biological sex) is defined by how much a person focuses on communal goals, like considering the welfare of others (considered “feminine”) versus “agentic” goals, like assertiveness, control, and focus on the self (considered “masculine”).
During the experiments, the researchers found that participants with a feminine gender identity who placed a high importance on being moral gave equally to hurricane and tsunami victims. Participants with a masculine gender identity who valued morality gave more to Katrina victims than tsunami victims.
“These findings suggest that donations are not simply driven by cause-worthiness. Rather they may be driven by the extent of overlap people see between themselves and the donation recipient,” the authors explain.
“For example, we also examined donations to victims of terrorist attacks. We found that women saw overlap between themselves and victims of terrorism in both London and Iraq. Men only saw overlap between themselves and London terrorist victims.”
Organizations and donors would benefit by understanding these donation patterns, the authors conclude.
Karen Page Winterich (Texas A&M University), Vikas Mittal (Rice University), and William T. Ross, Jr. (Pennsylvania State University) published their research in the Journal of Consumer Research.