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Publication Detail
Empathy and its associations with age and sociodemographic characteristics in a large UK population sample
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Authors:
    Sommerlad A, Huntley J, Livingston G, Rankin KP, Fancourt D
  • Publication date:
  • Journal:
    PLoS ONE
  • Volume:
  • Issue:
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  • Notes:
    © 2021 Sommerlad et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
OBJECTIVES: Empathy is fundamental to social cognition, driving prosocial behaviour and mental health but associations with aging and other socio-demographic characteristics are unclear. We therefore aimed to characterise associations of these characteristics with two main self-reported components of empathy, namely empathic-concern (feeling compassion) and perspective-taking (understanding others’ perspective). METHODS: We asked participants in an internet-based survey of UK-dwelling adults aged ≥18 years to complete the Interpersonal Reactivity Index subscales measuring empathic concern and perspective taking, and sociodemographic and personality questionnaires. We weighted the sample to be UK population representative and employed multivariable weighted linear regression models. RESULTS: In 30,033 respondents, mean empathic concern score was 3.86 (95% confidence interval 3.85, 3.88) and perspective taking was 3.57 (3.56. 3.59); the correlation between these sub-scores was 0.45 (p < 0.001). Empathic concern and perspective taking followed an inverse-u shape trajectory in women with peak between 40 and 50 years whereas in men, perspective taking declines with age but empathic concern increase. In fully adjusted models, greater empathic concern was associated with female gender, non-white ethnicity, having more education, working in health, social-care, or childcare professions, and having higher neuroticism, extroversion, openness to experience and agreeableness traits. Perspective taking was associated with younger age, female gender, more education, employment in health or social-care, neuroticism, openness, and agreeableness. CONCLUSIONS: Empathic compassion and understanding are distinct dimensions of empathy with differential demographic associations. Perspective taking may decline due to cognitive inflexibility with older age whereas empathic concern increases in older men suggesting it is socially-driven.
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Behavioural Science and Health
Mental Health of Older People
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Mental Health of Older People
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