March 4, 2012; Source: Boston Globe

Over the weekend, the Boston Globe reported on a disturbing study that reveals some of the ways in which racial stereotypes play out in charitable giving. Researchers Deborah A. Small, Devin G. Pope and Michael I. Norton looked at giving to public schools to test their theory that stereotypes associated with young children offset negative stereotypes about African Americans in a very significant way. The researchers state “we explore people’s perception of and behavior toward African American children of different ages. We expected that beliefs about African Americans (which are frequently negative in tone) might conflict with beliefs about children (frequently positive), such that both negative stereotypes and negative behavior might be less evident with regard to younger African American children compared to older African American children.”

In fact, when the researchers looked at four types of classroom portrayals, classrooms portrayed as being made up of young black students received the most generous donations, followed by classrooms made up of young white students. Next came a classroom portrayed with older white students, and then, receiving the least support, a class with older black students.

“When asked to allocate a hypothetical donation across classrooms with different demographics, the average donation was $14.17 for young black classrooms versus $11.26 for older black classrooms, but $12.96 for young white classrooms versus $11.61 for older white classrooms,” the report states.

The discussion in the paper is even more complex, asserting that “merely appearing young—as opposed to actually being young—can evoke positive feelings: Livingston and Pearce (2009) demonstrated that baby-faced African American CEOs are perceived as warmer than mature-faced African American CEOs, because childlike facial features serve as a cue of warmth that attenuates stereotypes about African Americans. Children of all races lose their childlike essence as they approach adulthood. Therefore, all teenagers are likely to be viewed as less warm than younger children.” They go on to say that “a similar inhibition of negative African American stereotypes can occur at the other end of the age spectrum. In one recent investigation, elderly African Americans were perceived as less angry than adult African Americans (Kang & Chasteen, 2009); like children, the elderly are stereotyped as harmless and likable, which mitigates negative stereotypes associated with African Americans.”

The study has been published by SAGE in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. –Ruth McCambridge