A new study involving more than 75,000 adults reveals that middle-aged women have more empathy compared to men of same age and younger or older people.
"Overall, late middle-aged adults were higher in both of the aspects of empathy that we measured," says Sara Konrath, co-author of the study on age and empathy, from the University of Michigan.
"They reported that they were more likely to react emotionally to the experiences of others, and they were also more likely to try to understand how things looked from the perspective of others," says Konrath, the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological and Social Sciences reports.
Researchers Ed O'Brien, Konrath and Linda Hagen from the University of Michigan and Daniel Gruhn from the North Carolina State University analysed data on empathy from three separate large samples of American adults, two of which were taken from the nationally representative General Social Survey, according to a Michigan statement.
They found consistent evidence of an inverted U-shaped pattern of empathy across the adult life span, with younger and older adults reporting less empathy and middle-aged adults reporting more.
O'Brien said this pattern may result because increasing levels of cognitive abilities and experience improve emotional functioning during the first part of the adult life span, while cognitive declines diminish emotional functioning in the second half.
Americans born in the 1950s and '60s -- the middle-aged people in their samples -- were raised during historic social movements, from civil rights to various anti-war counter-cultures, according to the authors.
It may be that today's middle-aged adults report higher empathy than other cohorts because they grew up during periods of important societal changes that emphasised the feelings and perspectives of other groups, they add.
Earlier, research by O'Brien, Konrath and colleagues found declines in empathy and higher levels of narcissism among young people today as compared to earlier generations of young adults.