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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2000 Nov;55(6):S323-33.

Giving social support to others, socioeconomic status, and changes in self-esteem in late life.

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School of Public Health and Institute of Gerontology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48109-2029, USA.



The purpose of this study was twofold: (1) to see if providing emotional support to others bolsters the self-esteem of older adults over time; and (2) to assess whether the salubrious effects of helping others are more likely to be enjoyed by high socioeconomic status (SES) elders.


Interviews were conducted with a nationally representative sample of older adults at three points in time: 1992-1993, 1996-1997, 1998-1999. Complete data are available for 511 elderly people. During each round of interviews, respondents were asked how often they provided emotional support to their social network members. Information on the self-esteem of older support providers was also gathered at each point in time.


Initially, the findings revealed that helping others tends to bolster the self-esteem of all study participants regardless of their SES standing. However, these benefits began to taper off for lower SES elders during the course of the study. By the third wave of interviews, the salutary effects of helping others were evident only among older adults in upper SES levels.


The results highlight the dynamic nature of the helping process and underscore the importance of taking SES into account when studying the effects of assisting others in late life.

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