Senior citizens donate more to strangers than younger adults: NUS study

Generic picture of a group of elderly men watching a game of chess at Toa Payoh Central.
Generic picture of a group of elderly men watching a game of chess at Toa Payoh Central.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

SINGAPORE - Older people donate more to strangers than younger adults, even when such generosity is unlikely to be reciprocated, a recent study has found.

The study, conducted by a team from the National University of Singapore (NUS), showed that both younger and older adults are equally generous to people who are close to them, such as family members or close friends.

However, senior citizens are more generous to those who were more socially distant, such as complete strangers.

Their level of generosity does not decrease with social distance as quickly as that of the younger adults. The elderly are also more likely to forgo their resources to strangers even when their generosity is unlikely to be reciprocated.

Generosity was measured by calculating the amount of money that the participants were willing to give to another person, based on how close the participants were to them.

The study was conducted from March 2016 to January 2017. It involved 78 adults in Singapore. Half of them were older adults with an average age of 70, while the other half were about 23 years old on average.

The findings of the study were published online in Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences on April 5.

Assistant Professor Yu Rongjun, who led the study, said that greater generosity was possibly observed among senior citizens because as people become older, "their values shift away from purely personal interests to more enduring sources of meaning found in their communities".

He added that the findings provide an understanding of why the elderly are more inclined to lend a helping hand to strangers.

"Providing older adults with more opportunities to help others is not only beneficial to our society, but it might also be a boon to the well-being of older adults themselves," said Assistant Professor Yu, who is from the psychology department at NUS. "Future studies with direct well-being measures should further examine this hypothesis."