People Who Volunteer Live Longer, Study Suggests

LiveScience.com

People who volunteer for selfless reasons, such as helping others, live longer than those who don't lend a helping hand, a new study shows. However, those who volunteer for more self-centered reasons do not reap the same life-extending benefits.

"This could mean that people who volunteer with other people as their main motivation may be buffered from potential stressors associated with volunteering, such as time constraints and lack of pay," study researcher Sara Konrath of the University of Michigan said in a statement.

(Past research suggested another benefit for selfless volunteers — a date. Apparently women rate such altruism high on their list of desirable traits in a mate.)

Konrath and colleagues looked at results from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which has followed a random sample of 10,317 Wisconsin residents from their high school graduation in 1957 until the present. In 2008, the average age of the participants was about 69, and about half of the participants are female.

In 2004, the participants reported how often they had volunteered within the past 10 years. They also explained their reasons for volunteering, or, in the cases of those who had not volunteered  but were planning to, the reasons they would.

Some of the participants' motives were more oriented toward others, such as "I feel it is important to help others" or "Volunteering is an important activity to the people I know best." Other respondents, however, had more self-oriented reasons for volunteering, such as "Volunteering is a good escape from my own troubles," or "Volunteering makes me feel better about myself."

Researchers then compared the participants' responses with physical health information that had mostly been collected in 1992. The researchers also considered the respondents' socioeconomic status, mental health, social support, marital status and health risk factors, including smoking, body mass index and alcohol use.

The findings showed that those who volunteered for more altruistic reasons had lower mortality rates as of 2008 than people who did not volunteer. Of the 2,384 non-volunteers, 4.3 percent were deceased four years later, compared with 1.6 percent of altruistic volunteers who had died.

However, people who said they volunteered for their own personal satisfaction had nearly the same mortality rate (4 percent) as people who did not volunteer at all.

"It is reasonable for people to volunteer in part because of benefits to the self; however, our research implies that, ironically, should these benefits to the self become the main motive for volunteering, they may not see those benefits," said study researcher Andrea Fuhrel-Forbis, also of the University of Michigan.

The study was published in August in the journal Health Psychology.

You can follow LiveScience writer Remy Melina on Twitter @remymelina. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

View Comments (229)

Recommended for You

  • Police officer shot after responding to wrong home

    ATLANTA (AP) — A police officer was shot and critically wounded Monday when he responded to a call of a suspicious person and showed up at the wrong house, authorities said.

    Associated Press
  • Man sentenced to life with no parole walks free in Missouri

    JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A man sentenced to life in prison without parole on a marijuana-related charge walked out of a Missouri prison a free man on Tuesday, after spending two decades behind bars.

    Associated Press
  • Woman Becoming Nun Needs Friend's Interest, Not Concern

    DEAR ABBY: I was best friends with "Joanne" after we met in middle school. She comes from a conservative Christian family and has three successful siblings. This has made her quirky, media-driven pursuits and city life a disappointment to her family. When we were teens and she learned that I was a…

    Dear Abby
  • Video of Israeli soldier arresting boy becomes latest in war of perception

    A soldier pins a boy down and is assaulted by his family: The scene might have gone unnoticed if not for footage that has turned it into another weapon in the Israel-Palestinian war of perception. Palestinians see it as proof of Israel's abuses in the occupied West Bank, while many Israelis say the…

    AFP
  • Sheriff: Suspect kills mother, stepfather, grandmother

    Outfitted in camouflage and armed with a high-powered rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition, Robert Seth Denton fatally shot his mother, stepfather and grandmother while six children witnessed the carnage in the family's double-wide mobile home in eastern Tennessee, a sheriff said Monday.

    Associated Press
  • All eyes on Manchester United as deadline day dawns

    Manchester United were the centre of attention as the Premier League's transfer deadline day dawned on Tuesday, with moves involving David de Gea and Anthony Martial awaiting completion. Goalkeeper De Gea had appeared on the brink of a move to Real Madrid worth between 30 million ($33.8 million)…

    AFP
  • View

    Kentucky county clerk refuses to issue same-sex marriage licenses (26 photos)

    Gay couples in a Kentucky county are expected at the courthouse door Tuesday morning after the Supreme Court ruled against a defiant clerk who has refused to hand out marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Supreme Court ruled against the county clerk who refused to issue gay marriage licenses,…

    Yahoo News
  • With help, small island states ditch diesel for cheaper, cleaner energy

    By Megan Rowling BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - After oil prices hit a record high in July 2008, the tiny Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands was forced to declare an economic emergency since around 90 percent of its energy needs were met by imported petroleum products. The fuel price…

    Reuters
  • US markets drop after bleak Chinese manufacturing report

    NEW YORK (AP) — Stock markets were plunging again Tuesday, continuing Wall Street's month-long rocky ride, after gloomy economic data out of China rekindled fears that the world's second-largest economy is slowing much faster than anticipated.

    Associated Press12 mins ago
  • Investigators: Arizona woman acknowledges drowning twin sons

    PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona woman told investigators that she drowned her 2-year-old twin sons and tried to kill her 3-year-old stepbrother in the same way because she didn't want them to live with the difficulties she faces.

    Associated Press
  • Daughter Deep In Debt Needs Counseling, Not More Money

    DEAR ABBY: Three years ago I gave my adult daughter, married with a child, more than $16,000 to help pay off her debts because she couldn't pay her bills. She and her husband maintain separate accounts, which I find odd. He pays certain expenses; she pays others. Now I find she's deep in debt again…

    Dear Abby
  • This versatile 15-in-1 Travel Jacket is Kickstarter’s most funded piece of clothing at $7.2M

    Remember the MacGyver Travel Jacket that has 15 compartments that each have their own designated functions? It turns out that so many people loved the idea of having such a “smart” jacket that the project became the most funded piece of clothing in Kickstarter history, topping $7.2 million in…

    BGR News
  • Boko Haram killers on horseback massacre nearly 80 in NE Nigeria

    Suspected Boko Haram gunmen on horseback shot dead nearly 80 people in attacks on three villages in Nigeria's restive northeast at the weekend, a vigilante and residents told AFP on Monday. Babakura Kolo, a vigilante fighting Boko Haram, said 68 people were killed in the attack on Baanu village in…

    AFP
  • Obama slams 'completely unacceptable' cop killing

    President Barack Obama vowed Monday to push for police officer safety after a Texas sheriff's deputy was gunned down from behind and shot multiple times at close range. Darren Goforth, 47, was killed late Friday in the Houston area, and local officials have blamed ramped-up rhetoric against police…

    AFP
  • View

    The back alleys of one of America’s most dangerous cities (31 photos)

    High-tech policing and a renewed focus on community-officer partnerships are helping to bring calm to Camden, N.J., but it hasn’t been a cure-all. The impoverished town of 77,000 is still the most violent and crime-plagued city in the Garden State. A local policeman recently took Yahoo News…

    Yahoo News
  • Missouri man faces execution for raping, killing 15-year-old

    ST. LOUIS (AP) — An inmate scheduled to be executed Tuesday for killing a 15-year-old Missouri girl has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his punishment, saying the death penalty is unconstitutional.

    Associated Press
  • Women are not getting treated for menopausal symptoms

    By Roxanne Nelson (Reuters Health) - Many women with severe menopausal symptoms are not being treated for them even though safe, effective remedies are available, a study from Australia suggests. The findings may be applicable to other countries, too, according to senior author Dr. Susan R. Davis…

    Reuters
  • Big guns in east Ukraine fall silent, two more die from wounds in Kiev protests

    Sporadic shelling and shooting, which each side has blamed on the other, had ensured a steadily mounting death toll despite the ceasefire called as part of a peace plan worked out in Minsk, Belarus, in February. More than 6,500 people have been killed since a separatist rebellion erupted there in…

    Reuters
  • CERN: Test results show more detail about 'God particle'

    GENEVA (AP) — After three years of scrutinizing the elusive Higgs boson closely, scientists say they've determined that the "God particle" behaves just as predicted.

    Associated Press