Why Men Tip Better than Women

Waitresses know more about human generosity than most moral philosophers. Their incomes depend on tips. To economists, leaving tips in restaurants is the classic example of "irrational" human kindness: tips are voluntary donations to non-relatives who are unlikely to reciprocate. According to standard Darwinian models, we should all be very bad tippers. But that is not what we observe. Instead, most waitresses report that groups of men leave much better tips than groups of women, and men on dates with women leave especially good tips if they pay for the meal. That is consistent with sexual selection favoring displays of generosity. One might argue that men leave bigger tips because they have more money to spare. But that is an economically naive argument, because selfish men could have eaten in a slightly more expensive restaurant, or ordered more expensive wine, and left a smaller tip. It is also an evolutionarily fallacious argument in a more interesting sense: it begs the question of why the men bothered to make more money in the first place.

When Ted Turner announced in 1997 that he would donate $1 billion to the United Nations, his wife Jane Fonda did not. We could explain this in two ways. We might say that he could afford it because his personal wealth was over $4 billion, and she could not because hers was only several hundred million. We could take the sex difference in earnings as a given, and use it to explain the sex difference in charity. On the other hand we could ask, from a Darwinian viewpoint, why men should bother acquiring more resources if they just end up giving them away. One clue emerged in a Larry King interview. Turner revealed that when he told his wife of his intended gift, she broke down in tears of joy, crying, "I'm so proud to be married to you. I never felt better in my life." At least in this case, charity inspired sexual adoration.

One of the most extreme examples of male acquisitiveness in the service of charity was John D. Rockefeller, Sr., the 19th-century oil magnate. In business he was a ruthless monopolist, but in private, he was a devout Baptist committed to good works right from adolescence. Even during his first year of work as an assistant accountant at age 15, he gave 6 percent of his paltry annual salary to charity. This rose to 10 percent by age 20 in 1859, when he raised $2,000 to save his church from bankruptcy by paying off its mortgage, and contributed to a fund for an African-American man in Cincinnati to buy his wife out of slavery His magnanimity did not go unnoticed: one young woman from his congregation reported of the young Rockefeller that, though not especially handsome, "He was thought much of by these spiritual minded young women because of his goodness, his religious fervor, his earnestness and willingness in the church, and his apparent sincerity and honesty of purpose." Even after he was earning $10 million a year in dividends from his Standard Oil monopoly by age 40, he avoided the ostentation of other Gilded Age magnates, preferring to spend his money creating institutions such as the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research and the University of Chicago (which incidentally appointed Thorstein Veblen as one of its first faculty members). After age 50, Rockefeller spent much more time researching his charitable efforts than minding his business, and he managed to give much of his billion-dollar fortune away to intelligently chosen causes before dying at age 93. The Rockefeller Foundation was his peacock's tail.

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