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24.3: Gender Differences In Helping

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    You may have already asked yourself an important question about helping: Do men or women help more? And perhaps you have answered this question. For instance, you might have decided that women would be more helpful because they are by and large more attuned to the needs of others. Or perhaps you decided that men would be more helpful because helping involves demonstrating bravery and heroicism and men are more likely to desire to be heroes, or at least to look heroic in the eyes of other people.

    In fact, on average there are no big differences between men and women in terms of their helping. For instance, in a survey of altruism sponsored by Independent Sector, an established coalition that studies and encourages volunteer- ing, the percentage of women volunteering (46%) was not significantly different than the percentage of men (42%). Rather, there appears to be a person-by-situation interaction, such that gender differences show up more strongly in some situations than in others. The differences depend not only upon the opportunity to help but also on the type of helping that is required (Becker & Eagly, 2004). In general, men are more likely to help in situations that involve physical strength. If you remember photos and videos taken immediately after the World Trade Center attack in 2001, you’ll probably recall the many images of firefighters and police officers, who were primarily men, engaged in heroic acts of helping.

    This does not mean that women are any less helpful—in fact, thousands of women helped during and after the World Trade Center attack by tending to the wounded in hospitals, donating blood, raising money for the families of the victims, and helping with cleanup of the disaster sites. Because women are, on average, more focused on other-concern, they are more likely than men to help in situations that involve long-term nurturance and caring, particularly within close relationships. Women are also more likely than men to engage in community behaviors, such as volunteering in the community or helping families (Becker & Eagly, 2004; Eagly & Becker, 2005). Helping within the family is done in large part by mothers, sisters, wives, and female friends. (You might ask yourself when you last received a thank-you note from a man!)

    Although this type of helping might be less likely to be rewarded with newspaper stories and medals, providing social support and helping connect people serves to help us meet the important goal of relating to others and thus helps improve the quality of our lives. And women are not afraid to help in situations that are dangerous. In fact, women have been found to be as likely as men are to engage in dangerous behaviors such as donating a kidney to others (Becker & Eagly, 2004).


    Are the Religious More Altruistic?

    Do you think that religious people are more helpful than are people who are less religious? There are plenty of reasons to think this might be so. After all, every major religion preaches the importance of compassion and helpfulness, and many faith-based organizations help the poor and disadvantaged every year. Religious organizations help pro- vide education, food, clothes, financial support, and other essentials to the needy across the globe.

    There is support, based on surveys and questionnaires, that religious people do indeed report being more helpful than the less religious (Penner, 2002). For instance, Morgan (1983) found that people who reported that they prayed more often also said that they were more good, friendly, and cooperative toward others. Furrow et al. (2004) found a significant positive relationship between religiousness and prosocial concerns such as empathy, moral reasoning, and responsibility in urban high school students. And Benson et al. (1989) found that adolescents who said they were more religious were also more likely to have been involved in a volunteer service project in the last year.

    Batson and his colleagues (1989) wondered if religious people were actually more likely to help or if they simply indicated that they would be on questionnaires. To test this question, they recruited college students and first asked them to report on their religious beliefs. On the basis of these responses, Batson categorized the students into one of four groups:

    • The nonreligious students were those who did not indicate much interest in religion.
    • The externally religious students were those who primarily indicated that they used religion for self-concern, such as for feeling more comfortable and being comforted by others, for gaining social status, and for finding support for one’s chosen way of life. The externally religious tended to agree with such statements as “The church is most important as a place to formulate good social relationships” and “What religion offers me most is comfort when sorrows and misfortune strike.”
    • The internally religious were those who indicated that they had accepted religion and that it was part of their inner experiences. The internally religious agreed with statements such as “I try hard to carry my religion over into all my other dealings in life” and “Quite often I have been keenly aware of the presence of God or the Divine Being.”
    • Finally, people who agreed with such statements as “It might be said that I value my religious doubts and uncertainties” and “Questions are far more central to my religious experience than are answers” were considered to be quest-oriented. These students see religion as a lifelong commitment to getting answers to important moral and religious questions.

    Then Batson and his colleagues asked the participants whether or not they would be willing to volunteer their time by helping a woman in need or by walking in a walkathon for a charity. However, in each case Batson also gave one half of the participants a possible excuse for not helping, by informing them that a number of other students had already volunteered to help the woman or that they would have to complete a difficult physical exam before they could be in the walkathon.

    The researchers found that the externally religious were not more likely to help overall and were actually less likely to help when there was an easy excuse not to. It seems that the externally religious were not really altruistic at all. The internally religious participants seemed somewhat more altruistic— they helped more when the helping was easy, but they did not continue to help when the task got difficult. However, Batson and his team found that the quest-oriented students were the true altruists—they volunteered to help even when doing so required engaging in some difficult exercise and continued to help even when there was an easy excuse not to.

    Although most studies investigating the role of religion on altruism have been correlational, there is also some experimental research showing that activating symbols relating to religion causes increased altruism. Shariff and Norenzayan (2007) showed their research participants religious words such as divine, God, sacred, and prophet and then later asked them to contribute some money to a charity. The participants who had seen the religious words were more likely to donate money to an anonymous recipient than were a control group of people who had been exposed to non- religious control words. However, religion was not the only concept that increased helping. Similar increases in altruism were found when people were shown words related to civil duty, such as civic, jury, court, police, and contract.

    In summary, when surveyed, religious people say that they are more helpful than are the nonreligious, but whether they really help when helping conflicts with self-interest seems to depend on what type of religious person they are. People who are religious for personal reasons related to self-concern generally are not more helpful. On the other hand, those who are more quest-oriented—those who really believe that helping is an important part of religious experience—are likely to help even when doing so requires effort. Furthermore, religion is not the only thing that makes us helpful. Being reminded of other social norms, such as our civil responsibility to others, also makes us more helpful. ■

    This page titled 24.3: Gender Differences In Helping is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kate Votaw.