Altruism relates to health in an ethnically diverse sample of older adults

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2005 May;60(3):P143-52. doi: 10.1093/geronb/60.3.p143.


The existing literature indicates links between aspects of social network functioning and health outcomes. It is generally believed that networks that are larger or provide greater instrumental and emotional support contribute to improved health and, perhaps, greater longevity. Recently, it has been suggested that giving as well as receiving social support may be of benefit. On the basis of evolutionary theories of emotion and altruism, the current study sought to test this thesis in a large, ethnically diverse sample of community-dwelling older adults. As expected, levels of social support given were associated with lower morbidity, whereas levels of receiving were not. It is important that these relations held even when (a) socioeconomic status, education, marital status, age, gender, ethnicity, and (b) absolute network size and activity limitation were controlled for. Results are discussed in terms of their implications for theory regarding the relations among social exchanges, giving, and later life adaptation among older adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Altruism*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Ethnicity / psychology*
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • New York City
  • Regression Analysis
  • Social Support*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires