News and analysis
November 12, 2014

New Study Finds Unexpected Source of Giving: Young Women

Conventional wisdom says young Americans are not as generous as older generations, particularly if they’re not religious. That may hold true for most donors, says a new report, but younger women appear to be bucking the trend.

Millennial and Generation X women who are single and unaffiliated with a religion give two-and-a-half times more money to charity than their older, similarly secular counterparts, according to the report, which looked exclusively at unmarried donors. Their giving also doubles that of peers who have loose ties to a religion.

The researchers say their findings put the intersection of religion and charitable giving in a new light: Intensity of faith may not be as strong a predictor of giving as once thought.

Gender and age clearly influence a donor’s choices, says the study’s director, Debra Mesch, head of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. "You can’t look at religiosity in a one-size-fits-all way. We really have to drill down a little deeper into generational differences and gender differences."

The correlation between faith and giving has been widely documented, perhaps most famously in the 2006 book Who Really Cares, by scholar Arthur Brooks, which led columnist George Will to write: "America is largely divided between religious givers and secular nongivers." Last year, researchers from Lilly and the Los Angeles-based Jumpstart found that nearly three-quarters of household charitable giving goes to organizations with religious ties.

Ms. Mesch says her team is the first to analyze how age and gender might affect the link between religion and charitable giving. Their research excluded giving to churches, mosques, and other religious congregations but included donations to religiously affiliated nonprofits like Catholic Charities.

Although the work doesn’t offer explanations for the giving choices of young women, Ms. Mesch speculated that secular organizations for women and social networks like giving circles may be spurring their charity. The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota sponsors an annual networking event for female business professionals that has grown from 100 attendees to more than 1,000 in 15 years, says president Lee Roper-Batker. While older women remain the foundation’s biggest donors, an increasing number of young women are stepping up.

She adds: "A lot of them say we are the first organization to ask them for a five-figure gift."

Send an e-mail to Drew Lindsay.