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Working Paper, No. 2007-18, October 2007
The Widow’s Offering: Inheritance, Family Structure and the Charitable Gifts of Women

This paper aims to explain disparities in the charitable bequest behavior of men and women. The author uses data on charitable bequests in wills from 17th Century Suffolk, England to investigate whether women or men were more generous to the poor when they died. Because of the difference in the legal restrictions faced by married men and married women, she chooses to compare unmarried individuals. Higher proportions of unmarried men make charitable donations and men make higher average donations. She finds that differences in the wealth, circumstances and family status of women can explain between 58% and 99% of the gap in the donation rate. In addition, the author finds that women’s attributes serve to depress their average donations. Based on these finding, she concludes that women were not less generous than men despite the fact that a low proportion of total donations came from women.

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