By Jon Bergdoll
Jon Bergdoll is the applied statistician in the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s research team. He directs and conducts analyses for many of the school’s research projects, including Women Give 2018 and other studies conducted in partnership with the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. In this post, he answers questions about the data behind Women Give 2018: the Philanthropy Panel Study.
What is the Philanthropy Panel Study? How long has it been around, and what does it tell us?
The Philanthropy Panel Study (PPS), is part of a larger survey, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). The PSID tracks the same families over time and surveys them every two years, and around 9,000 households now complete the survey. The PPS questions about charitable giving were first introduced in 2000, but the PSID itself has been around for 50 years, since 1968. The PSID was designed as a long-term project to track American families across generations. The larger survey has a special focus on economic and poverty-related questions, since it was originally funded as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. The PPS portion allows us to see how Americans of all sorts give to charity, and how that giving changes over time.
The Philanthropy Panel Study is often referred to as the “gold standard” for datasets, particularly about charitable giving. Why is the data from the PPS of such high quality? What do you like best about working with the PPS?
There are a few reasons why the PPS data is considered to be excellent quality:
- First, the larger PSID is designed and surveyed by experts, and the underlying sample is reliable and accurately represents the American population. PPS data stands above other high-quality data on charitable giving in this way, because much of the other data is constrained to looking at around the top third of American households by income.
- Second, the PSID is panel data, which means the same households are surveyed over time, answering the same questions every two years. This means we not only can track any changes households make in their charitable giving, but we also know if their income changed, if they got married, if they had a child, or any of the many life events that can influence charitable giving. This is invaluable because it allows us to not just see how charitable giving is changing, but why it might be changing.
- Finally, questions in the PPS were written by experts in the field, meaning they are precisely worded based on years of research into the best way to ask about giving. In this way, we get the most thorough and accurate responses from these thousands of households.
I personally enjoy working with the PPS because it’s incredibly rich and does a better job than anything else in capturing how Americans give, and to what causes. Because it is representative of the U.S. population, it helps to highlight the middle ground of giving; gifts that aren’t multi-million-dollar, headline-making gifts, but are cumulatively more important.
How did you use the Philanthropy Panel Study data in Women Give 2018? What challenges did you encounter using this data in the study?
Well, the full report has a lot more information about our statistical methods, but essentially, we matched up individuals in the data with their parents who were also in the data. This allowed us to look at how a persons’ parents gave, and compare it to how they themselves gave. Along with the rich set of demographic characteristics the PPS gives us access to, we used this data to look at the connection between a parent’s giving and their children’s giving (now a grown adult in their own household); and then we compared those effects between sons and daughters. I’ve enjoyed working on the question of intergenerational influences on giving, and it’s been fascinating and challenging at the same time.
In terms of challenges, we always have to carefully think through what we are doing, and how we define certain terms and address certain situations. The households in the PPS are real households that go through life changes many of us have experienced—divorce, remarriage, gaining or losing wealth, having children, and so on—and we have to think through various potential issues for each project. Little details like how to measure parental giving, or whether family stability might affect the results, must be carefully considered to get accurate results.
How does the Philanthropy Panel Study advance our understanding about gender and philanthropy?
After about a decade of dedicated research on gender and philanthropy, we at the Women’s Philanthropy Institute are just now starting to fully grasp all of the potential questions the PPS allows us to answer. We’ve used the PPS to examine so many topics already, in particular through the Women Give series; from gender and generational differences in giving, to how giving influences life satisfaction by gender, to the intersection of religiosity, gender, and age. And so much more really cool research is in the works that we are excited to release to the public over the next year or so!
Women Give 2018 was completed with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions in the research, and the views expressed in this blog post, are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect official positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.