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This group longs to give advice and benefits from doing so but often lacks opportunity
Research from the University of Toronto finds that a certain age group would get the greatest benefit from giving advice. But it's at a stage in life when it's seldom asked. - photo by Lois M Collins
Jay Trottier would never presume that's he's better or brighter than other folks, but he admits some pleasure in sharing advice, when asked, whether helping his grown daughters sort through a problem or guiding choices made by his music students or members of the orchestra he conducts.

Trottier, 65, is retired from a job as the right-of-way supervisor for the city of Fairfield, California, and volunteers with the orchestra. And it turns out that his offering advice, laying out the issues and then watching an individual make an informed choice may be helping him as well.

A new study from the University of Toronto found that specifically for those in their 60s, giving advice may add more meaning and zest to life. But that need to help others and to be heard seems to come at a time when most people in that age group find far fewer opportunities to share advice.

Researchers used data from 2,583 American adults ages 18 to 80-plus who participated in the nationally representative Portraits of American Life study. They were asked a number of things, including opportunities to advise others, as well as how meaningful they found their own lives. The findings were published in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly.

That adults in late middle age benefit, in terms of quality of life, from being asked for and offering advice is potentially a problem, said lead author Markus Schafer, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, because older people are less likely to give others advice than are younger people even though they have more experience and "giving advice can be a real source of contributing to their community."

Access vs. experience

Little impact from providing advice was noted in most age groups, but for those in their 60s, a definite "bump" occurred, he said. In that age category, those who didn't give advice scored themselves lower in terms of having a meaningful life.

Younger folks, especially those in their 20s, 30s and 40s, make up the group most likely to give advice. It's a simple matter of access: Those individuals are typically in the workplace, home with kids Schafer calls children a "captive audience" in need of guidance or in education settings. They are meeting and mingling and visiting with people all the time. Those in their 60s, though, are in a transitional period that may include retiring. The kids have typically flown the nest and they often find themselves advising and interacting less with others.

"By then, they might do less socializing, have some health problems and perhaps have more difficulties getting out to be with other people, said Schafer.

But they are also a group that has a richer volume of life experience and could have important things to share, he added.

Schafer and co-author Laura Upenieks, a Toronto doctoral candidate, said 21 percent of those in their 60s and 28 percent of those at least age 70 responded that they gave no advice during the previous year. In the younger age groups, only 10 percent said they hadn't offered any advice over the course of the year.

In background material, Schafer noted the sentiment of some scholars that "the essence of mattering" is at its most precarious stage during late-middle age, as people retire and return to "empty-nests."

"The 'mattering' perspective helps explain why it is this period of the life span, in particular, when it is important for people to feel like they can still have influence on others through actions such as giving advice," he wrote.

Schafer told the Deseret News he hopes the community as a whole will think about this and realize it's important to provide more opportunities for older adults to share their perspective and collective experiences. It's good for everyone.

Still dishing it out

Trottier said his advice has been sought both professionally and privately. And he's thriving in part because of those connections and also because he's stayed busy since he retired.

Besides his volunteer gig as conductor of an amateur orchestra "Orchestra is still the one dictatorship in America," he quips he teaches music and stays very physically active.

As for advice, he gets as good as he gives, he added, never reluctant to ask others what they think would work, too. He doesn't mind asking for help.

Most things don't have to be done based on one single right answer, he said. "I talk to my children a lot giving advice, knowing that it's just advice. 'You make your own decisions,'" he said.
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