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Helping Others Shows Differential Benefits on Health and Well-being for Male and Female Teens


Objectives Adults who engage in altruistic social interest behaviors experience better mental health and have lower mortality rates than non-altruistic adults. The present study investigated the relationship between altruism and health and well-being in teens, and demographic and lifestyle variables. Methods A cross-sectional survey was implemented with a national sample of teens recruited through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Measures included the PedsQL, the Ryff Psychological Well-Being Scale, and a new self-report scale of Altruism (subscales: Receiving/ Providing Emotional Support, Family Helping Behavior, General Helping Behavior, and Helping Orientation). Results Data were collected from 457 teens (M age = 15.6, sd 1.2). Psychometric analyses revealed that a five-factor model fit the altruism data well. Multivariate regression revealed no association between providing emotional support and psychosocial health. There were, however, many associations between altruism and well-being, and differential associations by gender. Family helping was the most salient aspect of altruism for males, showing associations with positive social relations, purpose in life, and self-acceptance. For females, General Helping Behavior was associated with positive social relations, and Helping Orientation was associated with better purpose in life. Family Helping was associated with better physical health in females, but not for males. The only correlates of altruism were higher age, more physical activity, and engaging in positive religious coping. Conclusions Altruism is positively associated with health for females and with well-being for both males and females. Different gender-specific interventions to guide teens in doing more altruistic activities may have to be designed to capitalize on these different associations.

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Fig. 1


  1. The present sample had slightly more females than males (56% female). Data from the entire sample 52.4% are female and no data are available on the gender distribution of all confirmands. A study of confirmands from 1995 showed that 60% of respondents were female. Thus, the gender composition in the present sample is closer to the population than it was a decade ago.





Standard deviation


Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)


Confirmatory fit index


Root mean square error approximation


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Funding for this work was provided to Dr. Schwartz by the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love. The authors would like to thank Elizabeth Midlarsky, Ph.D., and J. Philippe Rushton, Ph.D., for helpful discussions in early stages of this project and for their permission to adapt items from their altruism scales for the present work. The authors are grateful for helpful suggestions and comments from anonymous reviewers of this work.

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Correspondence to Carolyn E. Schwartz.

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Schwartz, C.E., Keyl, P.M., Marcum, J.P. et al. Helping Others Shows Differential Benefits on Health and Well-being for Male and Female Teens. J Happiness Stud 10, 431–448 (2009).

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  • Altruism
  • Well-being
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Gender
  • Adolescents