Empathy and Close Social Ties in Late Life


Older adults with stronger social ties often lead longer, happier and healthier lives, but these ties may differ based on older adults' ability to share and understand others' emotions (i.e., empathy). This study asked how empathy was associated with the way that older adults construct and engage in their social worlds.


We drew on the Daily Experiences and Well-being Study to examine how older adults' empathy was associated with the structure (e.g., network size, contact), function (e.g., support), and quality (e.g., affection, conflict) of their close social ties. Participants (N = 333) self-rated empathy and listed their social partners using three concentric convoy circles.


Empathy was not associated with older adults' social network structure, but more empathic older adults exchanged support with more social partners and reported greater affection for their social partners. We did not observe a significant link between older adults' empathy and conflict with social partners.


Examining empathy advances our understanding of individual differences in older adults' close social ties. This study suggests that empathy may play a promising role with regard to promoting older adults' social experiences and strengthening their close ties.