Study Shows Emotional Intelligence, Empathy Increased With Age

At The Sharpe Group, research on actual bequests received has continually revealed that the market for bequests and other gifts that take place at death is greatest among the oldest members of a donor constituency—normally those at least 65 and older. In fact, studies indicate that those who actually leave charita­ble bequests make their final wills at an average age of 79, the same age that American Council on Gift Annuities (ACGA) studies have shown is the average age when gift annuities are completed. That means most donors continue to think about and even change their minds about the charitable gifts they include as part of their estate plans well into their later years.

In a series of studies published in scholarly journals over the past year, a team of researchers led by Dr. Robert Levenson of the University of California, Berkeley, examined just how age figures into emotional strategies and responses. Among their findings:

  • Older persons tend to use their own life experiences to interpret negative experiences in a positive way, a skill known as positive reappraisal.
  • As they age, people often become more sensitized to sadness and more adept at developing strong interpersonal relationships.

“It appears that the meaning of late life centers on social relationships and caring for and being cared for by others,” Dr. Levenson explains. “Evolution seems to have tuned our nervous systems in ways that are optimal for these kinds of interpersonal and compassionate activities as we age.”

Emotional intelligence and empathy can sharpen as people enter their later years. The 77-year-old may see a negative situation as an opportunity to make something good happen. The 86-year-old, because he can see the sadness or emotion in a situation, may act more generously and compassionately. What does that have to do with planned giving? Simply this: Older people may be more emotionally primed to give than younger people.

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