The personal and social links between age and self-reported empathy


In this study we examine the relationship between age and self-reported empathy. Using data from a 1985 community sample of 1,567 individuals from southwestern Ontario we document a strong negative association between age and empathy. The results show that age-associated patterns in socioeconomic status, widowhood, physical impairment, and dispositional attributes contribute to more than 65 percent of the total negative association between age and empathy. Conversely, a more positive balance of interpersonal relationships and greater religious involvement among older adults conceals about 20 percent of the size of the age-empathy association; that is, those factors tend to conceal older people's otherwise lower self-reported level of empathy. Other findings show that women report significantly more empathy and that the gender gap closes at older ages. Also, higher education significantly moderates the negative age-empathy association. Collectively our findings highlight the emotional significance of age-associated personal and social factors over the life course.



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Social Psychology Quarterly


American Sociological Association

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