Editor's Note: This Women Give study is one of about 15 projects that the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is conducting with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  All conclusions and findings are our own and do not reflect official positions of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


 A woman’s 12 year-old daughter said she had no more use for her princess themed rolling suitcase and wanted to give it to someone who could use it more. Together, the mother and daughter took the suitcase to a local homeless shelter. They gave it to a young girl who loved princesses. If the woman had a son, would he have started the same conversation about giving away an item he no longer used?  In some homes, the answer is surely yes but in others, the answer is no.

At the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, we know, from a growing body of research, that gender matters in philanthropy across a person’s life cycle. Our Women Give 2013 report found that girls and boys are equally likely to give to charity. However, girls are more likely than boys to volunteer. Until recently, we knew very little about how the transmission of generosity from parents to adult children impacts giving practices. 

In general, parents want to raise empathetic children who care about others, and are engaged in their communities. The values of generosity and philanthropy are a large part of the conversation; becoming a generous person is a process, not a onetime event. The biggest takeaway from Women Give 2018 is that to raise charitable children and pass on a legacy of giving, parents must be intentional in talking about and modeling charitable behavior with their sons and daughters.

The Women Give 2018 study used data from the Philanthropy Panel Study (PPS), the longest running study of philanthropy in the United States.  It is also a generational study, providing a unique opportunity to investigate the relationships between parents’ giving and their adult children’s giving.  To give some background, the sample size for this study is 3,700 adult children, of whom 1,935 are daughters and 1,765 are sons.  The adult children range in age from 19 to 65 years old; with an average age of 36.  This report uses the nationally representative Survey Research Center sample portion of the PPS for seven calendar years of data, collected every two years from 2001 to 2013.    

Women Give 2018 explores the relationship between the giving patterns of parents and their adult children in three ways:

  1. By observing the frequency of parental giving
  2. By observing the amount of parental giving
  3. By examining the parent’s level of wealth to determine whether and how these factors relate to the adult children’s charitable giving

The study found this simple truth: Donors beget donors. Adult children, both sons and daughters, whose parents give to charity, are more likely to give to charity. However, as we delve more deeply into the research, the study found the relationship between parental giving and their children’s giving differs by gender. 

The giving relationship is stronger between parents and daughters than it is between parents and sons.

Additionally, Women Give 2018 found that the frequency of parents’ charitable giving matters. When parents give frequently, both their sons and daughters are more likely to give. Once again, the data shows that gender differences emerge in giving patterns among adult children. Parents’ frequency of giving has a stronger influence on their adult daughters’ charitable giving behavior than it does on their sons.

How does parental wealth affect this dynamic? 

For children with wealthier parents, the likelihood of daughters’ giving is 27 percentage points higher if their parents give than if their parents do not give.  The same is not true for sons. Parental giving patterns have no effect on the giving patterns of sons.

What does this mean and why does it matter?

This empirical data affirms that parental giving patterns are related to adult children’s giving patterns. The lessons young children hear from their parents about caring and sharing influence philanthropic behavior as children age into adulthood.  This is good news for the future of philanthropy.

While additional studies are needed, two hypotheses emanate from the data in Women Give 2018 to further explain the differences in giving patterns for sons and daughters.

  1. Parents may be giving their daughters and sons different messages about philanthropy.  Socialization may play a central role in creating these different giving patterns. Traditionally, girls/daughters are often socialized into caretaking roles and one hypothesis is that this practice extends to philanthropic behavior. One example is the 12 year old girl with her princess themed suitcase.  Somehow, she absorbed the message that she should care for and share with others in need.
  2. The second hypothesis why this behavior exists is that daughters and sons may receive the same messages about giving from parents but respond to it in different ways. 

Recognizing that gender differences exist in the charitable behavior of daughters and sons is important right now. We are experiencing a significant intergenerational transfer of wealth, estimated at about $59 trillion over the coming decades.[1]  For even some of that wealth to trickle – or preferably flow – into philanthropy, this report suggests the need for parents to be more active and intentional in instilling values of generosity and philanthropy in all of their children, regardless of gender.

To jumpstart this essential dialogue, the next time you and your family are together, consider asking these questions:

  • How often do I give, and what does that tell my children about the importance of giving in my life?
  • What are my children’s questions about giving?
  • What causes are my children interested in and how can I support them in their giving efforts?
  •  What might I do to ensure that my children, regardless of gender, are generous and philanthropic?

As more and more families make conversations about philanthropy the norm, and ensure that younger and older children have the opportunity to find their own philanthropic paths, the more resources can be allocated to philanthropic causes. This will make the world a better place for everyone.

Women Give 2018 contributes to this effort by providing solid data for the conversation.


[1] Havens. J.J. & Schervish, P.G. (2014).  A Golden Age of Philanthropy Still Beckons:  National Wealth Transfer and Potential for Philanthropy Technical Report.  Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, Boston College.  Retrieved from:  http://mcf.pgdc.com/sites/all/files/cms/938685/attachments/a_golden_age_of_philanthropy_still_bekons.pdf