New research shows single women and married couples are more reliable and generous donors in retirement than single men.

Single women and married couples are more likely to donate to charity, are more generous and consistent donors and volunteer more than single men, according to a new academic study into how retirement affects philanthropy.

The report, titled How Women & Men Give Around Retirement, examined how giving patterns change as people retire, how retirement affects volunteering, and the impact of gender and marriage on these trends.

The study, which is the first of its kind according to researchers, was conducted by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) at the Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The research drew on data from the Philanthropy Panel Study (PPS) module of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). The PPS is the longest-running study of philanthropy in the US, and includes respondents’ histories across giving, volunteering, employment and retirement.

A major finding of the study is that even though most categories of spending decrease once people reach retirement, most regular givers continue their existing charitable donations.

“Economic studies have shown that people generally reduce their spending on many types of expenses when they retire… Spending on housing, transportation, and education declines significantly, and food spending drops slightly,” the report said.

“Charitable giving appears to buck this trend. In contrast to the drop in overall spending, households generally maintain their charitable giving, measured both in terms of the percentage of households that give, and the average amount given.”

The reliability of charitable donors varies based on marital status and gender, with single men being less generous and more volatile in their giving patterns than other donors.

“Marriage is good for charitable giving; for both men and women, marriage increases the likelihood and amount of giving. Overall, married couples tend to give higher amounts to charity than single men [or] women,” the report said.

“Overall, giving trends for single women, single men, and married couples were fairly stable as these groups moved into and through their retirement years.

“Yet the trend line for single men fluctuated noticeably… Single men’s giving is more volatile than giving by single women or married couples, both in terms of the likelihood of giving and the amount of giving – and these differences are statistically significant.”

The pattern for financial donations was mirrored in volunteering rates, with single men being less generous in giving their time and labour to charity.

“Single women and married couples maintain their volunteering rates after retirement, but single men are less likely to volunteer after they retire. Further, single women and married couples’ volunteering appears to be more stable after retirement compared to single men.”

The researchers noted that these differences in charitable giving in retirement are a continuation of patterns that were established later in life.

“Women tend to spread out their charitable giving more than men and may be more constant in supporting organisations throughout their lives. Men tend to be more transactional in their giving, often responding to personal appeals and not engaging as deeply with the organisations they support,” the report said.

“Women’s deeper engagement and loyalty to the causes they support may lead to more sustained giving, which helps explain their more stable levels of giving around retirement.”

In a statement, Women’s Philanthropy Institute director Debra J. Mesch said the study raises important considerations for nonprofits, wealth advisors, and philanthropists alike.

“The findings show that retirees continue to be generous during their retirement – even as other spending decreases – and that the way women and men address charitable giving later in life is a continuation of patterns established much earlier,” Mesch said.

“With an unprecedented number of people retiring and women’s wealth on the rise, these findings underscore how important it is for the philanthropy community to understand how women and men give around retirement, and consider evolving their strategies accordingly.”

The full report can be found on the Women’s Philanthropy Institute website.


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