It's official: helping pays off, with research proving that people who care for others live longer.
Older people who help and support others live longer. These are the findings of a study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. The international research team has found that grandparents who care for their grandchildren on average live longer than grandparents who do not.
In contrast to most previous studies on the topic, the researchers deliberately did not include grandparents who were primary or custodial caregivers. Instead, they compared grandparents who provided occasional childcare with grandparents who did not, as well as with older adults who did not have children or grandchildren but who provided care for others in their social network.
“But helping shouldn’t be misunderstood as a panacea for a longer life,” says lead author Ralph Hertwig. “A moderate level of caregiving involvement does seem to have positive effects on health. But previous studies have shown that more intense involvement causes stress, which has negative effects on physical and mental health,” says Hertwig.
The researchers think that prosocial behaviour was originally rooted in the family. “It seems plausible that the development of parents’ and grandparents’ prosocial behavior toward their kin left its imprint on the human body in terms of a neural and hormonal system that subsequently laid the foundation for the evolution of cooperation and altruistic behaviour towards non-kin,” says co-author Sonja Hilbrand.