Empathic Concern for Children and the Gender-Donations Gap

Empathic Concern for Children and the Gender-Donations Gap

Published: Oct 01, 2019
Publisher: Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, vol. 82

Jordan van Rijn

Bradford L. Barham

Key Findings
  • Dictator game featuring charitable appeal videos with organization as recipient.
  • No gender differences in average donations in baseline control group.
  • Treatments with children's stories increase empathic concern for males and females.
  • Children's personal stories increase female donations but not male donations.
  • Empathic concern from treatments explains up to 17% of gender-donations gap.

This study uses a dictator game with a charitable organization as the donation recipient to test whether empathic concern explains persistent gender differences in charitable giving. We first explore whether we can evoke empathic concern by varying the content of a real-world charitable appeal video that highlights children's stories of struggle with access to clean water. Then we examine whether the evoked feelings help explain gender differences in donations. Despite no gender differences in donation behavior in a baseline control group, we find that females donate 63% more than males in treatments that include the personal stories from children. These treatment videos increase self-reported feelings of empathic concern towards children among both males and females relative to the control; however, the empathic concern that results from the treatment videos increases average donations among females but not males. Causal mediation methods show that empathic concern explains 17% of the observed gender differences in giving. While the treatments evoke other emotions in addition to empathic concern, none of them explain observed gender differences in donations. Our study sheds light on the role of children's personal stories and empathic concern for children in explaining gender-donation gaps.

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