News and analysis
November 10, 2015

Parents of Only Daughters and 1st-Born Sons Are More Generous Donors

Households with more than one child are more likely to give — and donate a bigger share of their income — if the eldest is a son, a new study finds. But parents with only one child are more likely to give and to donate generously if that child is a daughter.

The report from the Women's Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is based on giving data from more than 13,000 people and is the first to study the effects child gender and birth order have on parents' charitable giving, researchers say.

The study found that parents with more than one child whose eldest was a son gave 14.3 percent more than those whose first-born was a daughter. Two-parent households with first-born sons gave larger amounts to educational causes and to youth-and-family groups than those who had first-born daughters.

People who had just one child donated 20.3 percent more if they had a daughter than those who had a son. Two-parent households with only daughters gave larger amounts to educational causes and basic-needs groups than those whose only children were sons.

Debra Mesch, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, said she believed the strong relationship forged between mothers and their only daughters explains the big difference in the giving patterns of parents with an only daughter.

"We know women express more empathy and altruism, and they are more inclined to emphasize to their daughters this pro-social relationship," she said.

Yet more differences were found in the patterns of children of single parents. In that case, it didn’t matter whether the eldest was a boy or a girl: There was no significant differences in giving. Ms. Mesch said the results of the research suggest that charities would be wise to think of the influence children have on their parents’ giving and to offer ways that all family members can get involved in a cause.

Send an email to Rebecca Koenig.