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Live Longer Through Generosity

Generosity can make us live longer

Giving money or resources (houses, benefits or time) to your children or aging parents is likely to increase their life span, according to a new paper published August 31st in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

There is a linear relationship between the amount and frequency of wealth transfers and the lengths of individuals’ lives, the study results have shown.

According to lead study author Tobias Vogt, an assistant professor in the faculty of spatial sciences at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, “one likely reason for the correlation between countries experiencing greater longevity in the presence of financial transfers was that those countries exhibited stronger social cohesion.”

To back that up, he cited a 2010 meta-analysis performed by researchers at Brigham Young University — with an aggregate of 148 separate studies involving a total of more than 300,000 participants. It found that survival was 50% greater for those with stronger social relationships compared to those with lesser or no social bonds.

France and Japan, the nations with the lowest mortality risk, showed the highest average individual wealth transfers. These countries shared between 68% and 69% of their lifetime income, while reporting mortality rates about twice as low as China and Turkey, where people shared between 44% and 48% of their lifetime earnings, according to the study.

A Complement to the UN’s World Happiness Report

Vogt and his team’s research fit in well with the body of science the UN and researchers around the world have been monitoring since 2012 as they have cultivated the happiness index, according to John Helliwell, co-editor of the World Happiness Report and professor emeritus of economics at the University of British Columbia.

“Generous behavior is related to trust and mutual regard and a sense of being together,” said Helliwell. “People who are happier are subsequently healthier.”

Societies with high mutual trust are more likely to be resilient, and that could be seen in how they have fared recently against the coronavirus, he explained.

Those nations successfully keeping the virus at bay, such as Norway and New Zealand, are places where people trust each other.

“There’s an evolutionary story being told by this (paper),” he said, that our collective endurance as a species isn’t about survival of the fittest individuals, but rather about survival of the most cooperative societies.

Pandemic Relevance

In a year of pandemic, global GDP is expected to drop by 5.2%, according to a World Bank estimate in June.

As the economic engine grinds to a halt, we’re faced with the prospect of our resource crunch resonating in the lives of ourselves, our children and our parents for years to come.

But the social science says there are ways to navigate the dilemma.

“It’s important how countries get out of these situations,” Vogt said, noting how countries such as Spain and France have high life expectancy and have high social cohesion, characteristics that can help shield them against the worst effects of the pandemic.

One of the most valuable ways to transfer something important to a loved one is to cook and care and read to them, he said.

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