TOM UTLEY: If oldies get more generous with age, why am I a meanie?

TOM UTLEY: If we oldies get more generous as we age, how come I’m still a meanie and Mrs U’s always been a saint?

Sometimes I feel that my wife and I are polar opposites in every way imaginable. She adores Mick Jagger, I much prefer Mozart.

I lap up documentaries about World War II, she would rather watch almost anything that happens to be on another channel.

As a Londoner born and bred, I love our capital city and I can’t see myself being happy anywhere else. As a native of Ayrshire, she hankers for green fields and the wide open spaces.

For the avoidance of doubt, in these most confusing of times, perhaps I should also spell out that I am male, and Mrs U is female — in both cases, not only by birth but by inclination.

But nowhere are the differences between us more stark than in our attitudes to money.

To put it with brutal frankness, I am a mean old bastard who has worried about the pennies for as long as I can remember. 

She, on the other hand, is the most generous, soft-hearted soul you could hope to meet (I almost wrote soft-headed), with an apparently unshakeable conviction that however much we lavish on others less fortunate than ourselves — our underserving sons in particular —God will provide and we’ll be all right.

If you’re a beggar with a sob story, or a charity volunteer with a collecting bucket, she is the one you should go to. File image


So if you’re a beggar with a sob story, or a charity volunteer with a collecting bucket, she is the one you should go to. Just don’t try your luck with me.

It was with some alarm, therefore, that I read about the study in an American scientific journal which found that the older we get, the more generous we become.

Oh Lord, I thought, if Mrs U gets any more generous with our money — my money, as I like to think of it, since I’ve always been the family’s main breadwinner — we’ll be bankrupt and starving before we know it.

According to this week’s findings, published in Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience, an increasing tendency to help others as we approach our old age has something to do with oxytocin. 

This is the chemical nicknamed the ‘love hormone’ because its functions include making couples warm to each other and helping mothers bond with their babies.

Apparently, we release more of the stuff as we grow older, which is said to make us more compassionate towards those in need, and more willing to reach for our wallets.

Researchers at Claremont Graduate University in California arrived at their conclusion after showing 103 people aged 18 to 99 a heart-tugging video of a father describing his two-year-old son who was dying from brain cancer.

When the subjects of the study were then asked to make anonymous donations to the hospital where the child was a patient, the differences between responses of the age groups were truly striking. Indeed, the over-65s gave nearly three times as much as those aged 18 to 35.

What’s more, the older guinea pigs were found over the previous year to have volunteered for charity work more frequently than the young, and given more of their income to good causes.

Significantly, said the scientists, as if this explained everything, blood tests taken before and after the video showed that those aged 65-plus had released more oxytocin as they watched it.

But can this really mean that the difference between meanies like me and such generous people as my wife comes down to a simple matter of hormone secretions? If so, all I can say is that both her oxytocin levels and mine must have remained pretty much unchanged since the day we married 42 years ago. Hers as high as ever, mine as low.

Even at 22, as she was when I took her to the altar, she was unfailingly generous with what little she had. That was one of the reasons I fell in love with her.

Meanwhile, I remain almost as reluctant to splash the cash at 68 as I was when I married her at 26.

True, I like to think I’ve always given fair tips to waiters and waitresses, barbers and taxi drivers. File image


True, I like to think I’ve always given fair tips to waiters and waitresses, barbers and taxi drivers.

Since my youth, I’ve also made a point of standing my shout in the pub. (Though, my God, how I resented it when one of my fellow regulars changed his preferred tipple from beer to Aperol Spritz, at an eye-watering £8.95 a glass!)

But when beggars approach me on the train or at the station, I always avoid their eye, while my wife will be reaching for her purse as soon as she sees them.

It’s the same when people come round collecting for charities. If I get to the door first, I generally make my excuses and send them away with nothing but a vague promise to think about it.

If Mrs U answers it, I know I’ll be doomed to send yet another chunk of the cash in our joint account to missionaries in Africa. Either that, or I’ll be forced to sponsor yet another wretched child to swim ten lengths of the local pool.

Once a meanie, in my experience, always a meanie — and I’m not just thinking of myself. Consider J Paul Getty Snr, for example, who was the richest man in the world when I was growing up.

Even in his old age, when he was rolling in more dollars than you or I could dream of, he kept a payphone for the use of his guests in his Surrey mansion, Sutton Place.

Certainly, I’m prepared to concede that in general — with a great many exceptions like Mr Getty and me — the over-65s give more freely of their time and cash than the young.

It is even possible, I suppose, that an age-related increase in oxytocin secretions may have a minor part in this. But isn’t it obvious that a great many other factors are in play?

For a start, the elderly tend to be retired, and therefore have more time on their hands to devote to charity work. In many cases (though, of course, by no means all), they also have more spare cash than when they were struggling to pay the mortgage and bring up their families.

If I’m over-careful with money these days, I like to think it’s at least partly because I remember so well the days when we had none. File image


It’s also true, as many a financial adviser will tell you, that we find we need less money as we grow older, and therefore have more to spare.

We no longer hanker for swanky cars or luxury holidays — and if you’re anything like me, you’ll prefer bangers and mash at home to meals out in expensive restaurants.

As for those over-65s like me who remain reluctant to part with our money, I can’t be alone in attributing this partly to childhood memories of the privations of the Fifties, when austerity really meant austerity.

I won’t pretend I grew up in abject poverty, as so many did in those days. But I well remember my parents’ constant worry about where the next meal would be coming from, or how to afford new shoes when we grew out of the old ones.

I can also testify that once you’ve answered the door to the bailiffs, as I did one miserable day in my childhood, you’ll never forget it.

Indeed, if I’m over-careful with money these days, I like to think it’s at least partly because I remember so well the days when we had none.

But then my wife had quite as tough a childhood as mine — almost certainly more so, as the fifth daughter of a separated single mum who brought up her large brood alone on the most meagre of wages.

Why is it, then, that where cheques for our boys, presents for the grandchildren or donations to charities are concerned, she has turned out to be so much more generous than her stingy old husband?

If you ask me, there is one factor those American scientists may have overlooked, in their preoccupation with blood tests and oxytocin levels. I call it sheer kindness of heart.

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