Losing The ‘Giving Gene’?

Debra Mesch: When Jewish women marry non-Jewish men, they lose their Jewish social capital.

Intermarriage may take its toll on philanthropy, particularly when it comes to the giving patterns among Jewish women who marry out of the fold.

According to a forthcoming study co-authored by Debra Mesch, the director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University, Jewish women who are married to non-Jewish men give significantly less to both religious and secular causes than Jewish couples. They even give less (and less frequently) than non-Jewish couples.

The findings, while controversial, are important since the past few decades have seen a rise in the philanthropic influence among Jewish women, who are earning and inheriting significant wealth and increasingly becoming involved in philanthropic decision-making.

What’s striking is that the giving patterns among Jewish men who marry non-Jewish women are not nearly as affected. In fact, Jewish men married to non-Jewish women are 11 percent more likely to give than Jewish women married to non-Jewish men. The findings controlled for other factors that impact philanthropy, such as age, number of children and income.

“It’s counterintuitive,” said Deborah Skolnick Einhorn, a doctoral student at Brandeis University whose dissertation, “The Power of the Purse,” focused on Jewish women’s philanthropy. “Jewish women who are married to non-Jewish men are much more likely to affiliate Jewishly than are Jewish men who are married to non-Jewish women.” More research needs to be done to evaluate the power around money in those relationships, she said. “If this were solely a measure of Jewish identity, you would see Jewish women who marry non-Jewish men giving more,” Einhorn said.

The study, entitled “Does Jewish Philanthropy Differ by Sex and Type of Giving?” is the first of its kind to examine gender differences in both Jewish and non-Jewish giving. The researchers used three waves of data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a nationally representative longitudinal study that has repeatedly surveyed the same 8,000 families since 1968.

Are Jewish women who intermarry losing the “giving gene?”

“When Jews marry Jews, their social networks combine and marriage increases your social capital,” said Mesch. “When a Jewish woman marries a non-Jewish man, there is that inconsistency. Maybe she gives up some of that Jewish social capital to fit into with norms and value systems that her husband has. The question is why this doesn’t happen when a Jewish man marries a non-Jewish woman?” (The study was unable to divvy up results according to denomination, which may have shed some light on these issues).

Another possible explanation offered by Mesch is that women tend to take on the philanthropic values of their husbands.

“There’s an underlying slant of men making the philanthropic decisions,” observed Gail Reimer, founding director of the Jewish Women’s Archive, which chronicles influential Jewish women in North America. “I don’t see this playing itself out.”

Nancy Schwartz Sternoff, the director of the Dobkin Family Foundation, said she was glad “these issues of gender are getting on someone’s radar screen.” Still, she thought the study “was more about intermarriage than about gender.”

Sternoff also took issue with the way the study classified “secular” and “religious” giving. The “religious” giving category was very narrowly defined as contributions and dues to synagogues, churches and mosques. Jewish hospitals, day schools and federations were classified as “secular,” along with nonsectarian causes. “The Jews I know, with whom I talk about these issues, believe that Jewish giving includes The Foundation for Jewish Culture, for example,” she said.

Overall, the study found that 62 percent of American Jews give to non-Jewish causes and 41 percent donate to Jewish causes other than federations. “Jewish affiliation and charitable giving are clearly bound together,” the authors conclude. Past research has shown that Jews give more to secular causes than any other religious group. American Jews contribute 25 percent of the largest gifts to higher education.

More than 90 percent of the gifts Jewish donors and foundations made of $1 million or more go to a wide variety of non-Jewish charities, according to the 2007 report “Mega-gifts in Jewish Philanthropy 2001-2003,” by Gary Tobin (who died this summer) and Aryeh Weinberg.

And Mark Wilhelm, a professor at Indiana University-Purdue University who co-authored the current study, previously found that Jewish families were more likely to give, and tend to give larger amounts than non-Jewish families to help people with basic needs such as food or shelter.

Another surprising finding was that single Jewish men give significantly more to secular causes than single women and married couples, whether Jewish, non-Jewish or intermarried. Among non-Jews, in contrast, single men often give the least. Since only a dozen single Jewish men were surveyed, these findings may not be statistically significant. “Men, in general, are asked more,” Mesch said. “Development officers will go to the man more often than to the woman.”

One finding development officers should be aware of is that when Jewish men marry Jewish women, they tend to increase their giving to religious causes quite substantially.

“We in the communal world have always valued the importance of women as boosters and volunteers, but we contend that many nonprofits are still not properly stewarding women as donors,” wrote EHL Consulting Group’s Robert Evans and Avrum Lapin in an article in eJewish Philanthropy.