- No-one else has as much empathy as women of the baby-boomer generation, research claims
- Growing up in the Sixties and Seventies opened their eyes to the struggles and experiences of others, it is argued
- Research looked at three U.S. studies in which 75,000 adults were questioned over lifestyles, attitudes and other aspects of their lives
By Damien Gayle
Want a shoulder to cry on? Then find a woman in her 50s, like Nigella Lawson or Jennifer Saunders, psychologists reckon.
For no one else, male or female, has as much empathy as women of this generation, according to a study of more than 75,000 adults.
They will listen more other people's problems and also react better to their needs, showing sympathy, concern and emotion, the research claims.
The perfect shoulder to cry on... Nigella Lawson, 53, and her 50-something female peers have the most empathy of any particular demographic, according to a study of more than 75,000 adults
Women are widely considered better listeners than men and those in their 50s are best of all because of both their stage of life and the period in which they were born, it added.
Researchers argued that growing up in the Sixties and Seventies may have opened the eyes of these women to the struggles and experiences of others, from apartheid and gay rights to women's lib and anti-war protests.
Older adults born earlier are more likely to be grumpy and cynical as their emotional functions fade with age, said study by U.S. universities of Michigan and North Carolina.
They also grew up in periods of greater hardship, such as during the war or post-war austerity, which could affect their attitudes to the seemingly minor problems of others.
And younger generations are from more materialistic times, the researchers wrote in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological and Social Sciences.
This could make them more self obsessed and so wrapped up in their own problems that it makes it harder for them to be concerned about that of others.
But the baby boomer generation who are now in their 50s grew up in a more enlightened and media-driven age, with a greater knowledge of the world around them.
This pair could cheer you up with a joke, too: Dawn French, 56, and Jennifer Saunders, 53. Researchers claim growing up in the Sixties and Seventies opened the eyes of these women to the struggles of others
Famous women in their 50s include TV chef Nigella, 53, as well as Dawn French, 56, and her comedy partner Jennifer Saunders, 54, and TV presenter Fern Britton, 55.
Lorraine Kelly is 53, just one year younger than Hollywood sirens Sharon Stone and Michelle Pfeiffer.
The researchers looked at three nationwide U.S. studies in which 75,000 adults of all ages were questioned over lifestyles, attitudes and other aspects of their daily lives.
And who wouldn't mind crying on these shoulders? Michelle Pfeiffer, left, and Sharon Stone, right, both 54. The baby boomer generation grew up in a more enlightened and media-driven age, it is claimed
It found that over a lifetime, levels of empathy started and ended low but peaked in middle age and particularly among the so-called post-war baby boomer generation.
Report co-author Sara Konrath of the University of Michigan, said: 'Overall, late middle-aged adults were higher in both of the aspects of empathy that we measured.
'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.'
The study added: 'Those born in the 1950s and '60s - the middle-aged people in our samples - were raised during historic social movements, from civil rights to various antiwar countercultures.
'It may be that today's middle-aged adults report higher empathy than others because they grew up during periods of important societal changes that emphasized the feelings and perspectives of other groups.'
Empathy is not just about being a good listener though, said the authors of the report, it can also play a major role in society from involvement in community work to charity contributions.