Older adults are more charitable — but prefer causes in their own countries

BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom — Older adults around the world are more likely to help their fellow man, unless they’re living in another country. A new study finds that although older adults are willing to donate more to charity than younger people, they focus on causes which help people closer to home.

An international team from the Universities of Birmingham, Oxford, and Vienna studied 46,500 adults between 18 and 99 years-old from 67 different countries. All of these individuals completed a survey examining charitable giving habits as well as their own personality and well-being during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Researchers examined how much each person would be willing to donate to two charities — one helping victims of the pandemic in their own country and one assisting people abroad. Each participant also received the same hypothetical amount of money to start with — which was equal to the average daily income in their respective nations.

Although younger participants donated less of the money on average, the study finds they also spread the donations out more equally — giving a greater portion to international causes than older respondents.

“We found that older people were much more likely to donate to a cause in their own country but less to an international charity and strikingly, this was true across most of the countries in our study,” says lead researcher Dr. Jo Cutler, from the University of Birmingham School of Psychology and Centre for Human Brain Health, in a media release.

“As countries, including the UK, are announcing cuts to foreign aid budgets, there will be an increasing reliance on global charities. Understanding the giving preferences and inclinations of different age groups could therefore be extremely important in planning campaigns and appeals,” adds senior author Dr. Patricia Lockwood.

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The team also discovered that older adults are more likely to identify with their own countries than younger respondents. They agreed more strongly with statements such as, “my country deserves special treatment.”

Overall, however, older adults still gave more of their fictional income to worthy causes. The teams adds that this remained constant even after accounting for potentially influential factors such as each person’s level of wealth, the severity of the pandemic in their country, and their perceived risk of catching COVID.

Study authors also found that older respondents were more likely to follow coronavirus safety measures, including social distancing and wearing face masks, during the early months of the pandemic.

“Increased prosocial behavior – generosity and distancing – is shown around the world for older adults compared to younger adults. However, whom people are willing to help seems to change as people age. As the challenges of the 21st century become increasingly global in nature, and rely on people helping others, it is vital we understand how different age groups might respond,” Dr. Lockwood concludes.

The findings appear in the journal Nature Aging.