Kiva Lenders Prefer to Donate to Pretty, Light-Skinned African Women

A new study has uncovered some uncomfortable information about microlending sites – and charitable giving in general. Researchers at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University have found that attractive, thin, light-skinned females are the most likely to quickly reach their financial goals on the site. It’s a disadvantage if your photo reveals you to be overweight, dark-skinned, unattractive, or, well, male.

Walter Theseira, the lead author of the study, says he doesn’t believe that this is the result of a conscious bias on the part of lenders, according to GOOD:

“This is why [NGOs] spend so much time choosing just the right photographs to illicit donations,” Theseira says. People respond more, and with donations, to pretty, smiling faces. But “as for why people do that… it’s a bit hard to say,” he cautions. “Our hypothesis is this is probably more a form of implicit discrimination than people acting on explicit bias.”

What’s interesting about the study is that being from Africa – because of the perceived “need” in the region – strongly boosts donations. People are more likely to help someone from Kenya than Bulgaria. Only after the geographic discrimination is accounted for does the skin tone bias emerge.

It makes sense that many people are more willing to give money to women. In many cases, due to institutional sexism, women need the extra help. They might not be able to qualify for traditional loans at all, making Kiva an important alternative.

Researchers did find that people who lend frequently on the site are less likely to be biased:

“What we found [on Kiva] are these patterns of discrimination are most evident in people who don’t lend much,” he says. Habitual use of a site, he reasons, makes the lender more strategic, more businesslike, and less biased. Instead of just clicking on pretty faces, repeat users scan and search for details more relevant to loan-worthiness. “In the case of the Kiva website itself,” Theseira says, “I think if we can try to establish more clearly whether it’s implicit discrimination or something else, it might be possible to use technology to address it.” In other words, a lending site could show newer users a set of profiles designed to counteract measured biases.

Luckily, Kiva is taking these findings seriously. The site is currently looking into ways they can tweak their format and design to counteract potential bias in lenders. This could include making photos less prominent, or structuring pages so that users need to spend more time absorbing information – rather than allowing them to immediately click “donate” as soon as they see an appealing face.


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Photo credit: William Murphy


Olivia Dawson
Olivia Dawson4 years ago

Interesting, thanks

Alan Lambert
Alan Lambert4 years ago

Color me completely unsurprised...

Ricardo S.
Ricardo S4 years ago

Women have been always left behind in the business world. Maybe lenders are just trying to make up for all the wasted years?

Or maybe women are, indeed, more honest. Just look at the recent GM issue. Mary Barra was chosen as the first female CEO ever to run a car company. She started the job earlier this year and not even 2 months after she exposed a lie that had been going on for at least 13 years at the company.

So... for 13 years only men were CEOs at GM, all of them lied and hid the problem, leading to 13 deaths. In less than 60 days ruled by a women, the issue was exposed and vehicles were recalled for substitution of the problematic ignition.

Another recent case went at HP.

As soon as a women, Meg Whitman, was chosen to be HP's CEO, the HP/Autonomy fraudulent deal was exposed.

I don't know about you but I'd prefer if more women were CEOs.

Jennifer E.
Jennifer E6 years ago

I read a report by a charity which gives loans, and they said in their experience they had stopped giving loans to men. Women were far more likely to repay the loan and used the loan for what it was intended. Also, women spread disposable income far wider than men - something like 70% of a woman's disposable income (in the places the charity was providing the loans) went to other people - family mostly. Men were far less likely to repay the loan (so it was basically a free gift as far as they were concerned) and their disposable income went mostly on themselves with about 30% going to others.

Sort of says a lot about priorities, to me. I only give money to women now.

Dana B.
Dana B.6 years ago

With regard to the comment about lending to women ... if you did any research and study on micro development in developing countries, you'd realize that most all lending is targeted at women. And, there are so many reasons why -- for example, women tend to be less of a risk with regard to paying back the loans, women are more tied to the area, organizations want to promote the independence of women in male-dominated countries/areas, etc. And, I think "attractive" is a bit subjective. There are so many other things to consider. Instead of bashing these organizations, we should be applauding them for the work they're doing to promote entrepreneurship in these desperate areas of the world.

jane d.
Sarah M6 years ago

I just donated to kiva through butterfly credits to someone from mongolia, a merchant, hope it was good enough. She has been given the gift 45 times how long until she reaches her potential?

Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons6 years ago

Just use the photo from here.

Katy H.
Katherine H6 years ago

I used to just donate to women on Kiva because women are more likely to live in poverty. Then I noticed that there were a lot of men on the site waiting for donations. Now I try to pick randomly (there is a random generator button) or one that is "expiring soon."

If you haven't tried Kiva, I would recommend it. It is a great way to help people help themselves. You give a loan and then they repay it so you can reloan that money to someone else.

Hector R.
Hector Rodriguez6 years ago

The bias is not just there, here is the same.
Look at the movies or tv. series, light skinned black women with straightened hair are the "good ones", the "more popular", "more intelligent" ... etc. all the goodness.
That is discrimination against the darker ones, with natural curly hair. I'm sure there are many pretty, intelligent and good dark(er) women.

Anne F.
Anne F6 years ago

There's a spelling mistake = in the quote, should be "elicit" not "illicit". About the story, interesting that beginning lenders seem to select thin, light-skinned Africans. Kiva presents an overwhelming amount of information (photo, story, hundreds to choose from most weeks, details about the lending organization).