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Gender Differences in Helping

15 January, 2016 - 09:20

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 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 both the Canadian and U.S. surveys of altruism we discussed earlier in the chapter, the percentage of women volunteering (48% in Canada and 46% in the United States) was not significantly different from the percentage of men (46% in Canada and 42% in the United States). 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 on 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 look at photos and videos taken immediately after the World Trade Center attack in New York City in 2001, you will see 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 the 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.

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 behaviors such as donating a kidney to others (Becker & Eagly, 2004).