Mortality Salience and Age Effects on Charitable Donations

Jennifer R. Roberts, Molly Maxfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Research suggests that people are typically more generous in later life. Terror management theory offers one explanation for this pattern. The theory suggests that humans’ innate desire to survive results in strong reactions to increased awareness of mortality, thereby affecting behaviors. Older adults’ increasing proximity to life’s end has been associated with greater generative concern, as a means of caring for future generations and ensuring symbolic immortality. This experimental study evaluated the effects of age and mortality salience on charitable giving. Age and mortality salience interacted to affect donations overall and specifically for in-group and out-group donations. Compared with respective age-based control groups, findings indicate that mortality salience primes led young adults to donate less overall to the in-group, and older adults to donate more overall and more to the out-group. Middle-aged adults’ donations did not vary according to priming condition. Results suggest that contemplation of mortality differentially affects charitable donations of young and older adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1863-1884
Number of pages22
JournalAmerican Behavioral Scientist
Issue number14
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • age
  • charitable giving
  • generativity
  • mortality salience
  • terror management theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences


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