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Home arrow Education arrow Inter-generational Financial Giving and Inequality: Give and Take in 21st Century Families


Family Relationships and Financial Transfers

Family life is clearly affected by family structures and living arrangements, but how can we understand and analyse, more directly, the nature of family relationships, particularly within the extended family, across generations? There have been various approaches to this in the past, starting with an important stream of research on family cohesion/soli dar- ity (Nye and Rushing 1969; Bengtson and Schrader 1982; Silverstein and Bengtson 1991). As we saw in Chap. 1, Nye and Rushing (1969) identified six dimensions that can be used to measure family cohesion: associational integration (frequency of interaction); affectual integration (emotional closeness); consensual integration (agreement over values); functional integration (help and care); normative integration (importance accorded to family) and goal integration. Bengtson and Schrader (1982) then adapted this model, proposing six key types of solidarity with the first five being the same as those proposed by Nye and Rushing but with structural integration (living arrangements) replacing goal integration. The key building blocks of solidarity/cohesion are therefore commonly identified as: emotional cohesion; social contact; geographic distance; supportive behaviours; filial obligations and attitudinal agreement (Bengtson and Schrader 1982; Roberts et al. 1991).

Family relationships are important as solidarity has been shown to be important to family members’ self-esteem and psychological well-being. It also underpins and influences the capacity for family members to give and receive support (Roberts and Bengtson 1999; Rossi and Rossi 1990). Moreover, family solidarity is seen as providing a key resource for families and individuals to be more resilient across a wide range of activities and circumstances (see Silverstein and Bengtson 1991; Katz and Lowenstein 2010).

Studies of family solidarity have been highly influential but not without their critics. Sprey (1991) for example has taken issue with the overtly positive bias underpinning much of the work and what this has to say about cohesion within the family. Other critics also draw attention to the use of the term ‘solidarity’ and the way that it suggests the presence of consensus within families (Marshall et al. 1993). Luescher (1999), for example, has argued that the concept of inter-generational solidarity appears to assume prominently shared values across different generations and normative obligations in the parent-child relationship.

Given these criticisms, conflict theory has emerged, emphasising the tensions within families. Gender issues also play out within this context as more women have entered the labour market over recent decades, cre?ating tensions between their traditionally assumed caring roles/respon- sibilities and these new labour market roles (Merrrill 1996; Lieberman and Fisher 1999). Feminist scholars have, more generally, highlighted issues of (potential) conflict (see e.g. Coontz 1992; Osmond and Thorne 1993; Skolnick 1991; Stacey 1990, 1996; Thorne 1992; Thorne and Yalom 1992). Tensions within families may also increase when families are expected to take on more responsibilities for the economic well-being of its members, particularly if families have fewer means to so do (Gelles 1980; Witt 1987).

Although viewed as a welcome contribution to the debate around better understanding inter-generational relations, some scholars caution that conflict and solidarity are much more dynamic and should not be viewed as a single continuum where each appears at opposite ends (Bengtson et al. 2000). Rather than conceptualising conflict as a negative force, it can be seen as natural and inevitable in family relationships. The opposite of ‘solidarity’ in a family may therefore be indifference rather than conflict. Furthermore, it is not necessarily true that ‘more is better’ in terms of family solidarity. Excessive solidarity on one dimension (support), for example, may induce dependency and thus result in lower solidarity on another dimension (affect). Moreover, although affection usually has positive effects, for example, as a predictor of longevity (Silverstein and Bengtson 1991) or of self-esteem (Roberts and Bengtson 1999) at extreme levels, it can be suffocating and inhibit individuals’ well-being (Silverstein et al. 1996).

Moving beyond the solidarity/conflict debate, the term ambivalence has been offered as an alternative lens for understanding family relationships (Marshall et al. 1993; Lorenz-Meyer 2001; Hillcoat-Nalletamby and Phillips 2011). The term ‘inter-generational ambivalence’ is relatively new in the social science literature in the study of parent-child relationships and has been used to describe the contradictions in relationships between parents and adult children that are problematic and difficult to reconcile. Moreover, ambivalence provides a fresh theoretical and empirical starting point in undertaking research on inter-generational relations. Ambivalence also takes its conceptual roots from psychological traditions on the human development following the work of Freud and forms a central tenet of psychosocial literature (Erikson 1994). Within this body of literature, ambivalence is conceptualised as a simultaneous expression of love and hate towards the same person.

The concept of ambivalence has clearly been influenced by feminist and postmodernist theory. Postmodernist theory contends that family relations have struggled to adapt to wider societal change, leading to weakened ties and discontinuity (Gergen 1991). This disorientating effect has meant that family life and the different forms family life is now taking (i.e. divorce, ‘blended’ families, same-sex partnerships, etc.) have to be pluralistic rather than fixed to cope with these wider societal and demographic changes (Gubrium and Holstein 1990). These changes, postmodernists argue, create conceptual space for ambivalence as an analytical tool to better understand inter-generational relationships.

Luescher and Pillemer (1998) identify two types: (a) sociological or structural ambivalence, which stems from an individual’s location in the social structure, and (b) psychological or individual ambivalence, which refers to the feelings or sentiments experienced by individuals when faced with structural ambivalence. Their general definition of ambivalence, ‘contradictions in relationships between parents and adult offspring that cannot be reconciled’ (Luescher and Pillemer 1998: 416), incorporates both types. Connidis and McMullin argue that ambivalence must be reconceptualised as ‘socially structured contradictions made manifest in interaction (2002: 565).

Although inter-generational ambivalence has been widely used in recent times in the study of adult-child relations, its proponents accept that it provides challenges to family researchers (Luescher 2002). Other scholars have been reluctant to reject the solidarity-conflict perspective on family relationships and have argued that ambivalence does not necessarily compete with these approaches (Bengtson and Giarrusso 2002). In particular, Bengtson and Giarrusso (2002) have questioned how novel this conceptualisation of ambivalence is given that concepts of role conflict and role-set conflict have previously been identified (Merton 1957). And, indeed, structural symbolic interactionists have argued that individuals do not simply engage in role-taking, but rather in role-making (Turner and Colomy 1987). That is, they act with agency. They negotiate how they enact their roles, altering way they perform a role or abandoning a role altogether. At the same time, they encounter role conflict in organisational settings. Individuals experience role conflict or role-set conflict (Biddle and Thomas 1966).

While the debates around the conceptual frameworks of solidarity, conflict and ambivalence are very interesting, what do we know, empirically, about the nature and level of solidarity/conflict/ambivalence within families and between generations in particular? Here, we focus on functional integration (the giving and receiving of help and support). And we also focus particularly on inter-generational financial gifts. The majority of the research on inter-generational financial transfers has been carried out in the USA, using large data sets such as the LSOG[1] and more recently, in continental Europe, with data sets focusing on people aged 50 and over such as the SHARE.[2] Using data from the SHARE, Attias-Donfurt et al. (2005) provide evidence of the giving and receiving of financial transfers in ten European countries. The first wave of SHARE took place in 2004 when respondents were asked the following question: ‘Not counting any shared housing or shared food, have you or your husband/wife/partner received any financial or material gift from anyone inside or outside this household amounting to 250 euros or more? (Attias- Donfut et al. 2005). Financial or material gifts were defined as the giving of money or coverage of specific types of costs such as medical expenses, schooling and deposits for buying a house. Loans were not considered to be gifts. The same question format was used for financial transfers given. Respondents, all aged 50 or more, were asked how much was given and received and the main reason for the transfer (Attias-Donfut et al. 2005).

Just over a quarter of all respondents (who are all aged 50 and over) reported that they had given 250 Euros or more to their family or other members of their social network within the last 12 months. It is difficult to know whether or not we might consider this is a high or low degree of financial transfer. Older people receiving financial help from their chil?dren represented a small minority of 5 per cent overall, supporting the notion that resources generally flow from the elderly to their offspring. Attias-Donfut et al. (2005) state that rates of making financial transfers decreased with age, and respondents living as part of a couple were more likely to have given money than those who were single. This pattern is likely to reflect the better-off position of couples compared with singles and the fact that resources tend to decrease as people age.

In the USA, McGarry and Schoeni (1995) reported that almost one third of parents gave a gift of $500 or more to at least one of their adult children during the past year, while only 9 per cent of adult children reported providing this amount to their parents. Similar results are reported by Bengston and Harootyan (1994) and Soldo and Hill (1993). In Europe, research shows that resources also tend to flow downwards (Attias-Donfut et al. 2005; Attias-Donfut and Wolff 2000; Kohli 1999; Kohli et al. 2000; Knijn and Komter 2004; Kunemund and Rein 1999).

The evidence from these studies therefore suggests that large gifts are not given and/or received in the majority of families in any one year. Is this evidence of a high level of inter-generational solidarity or a low level? This is not an easy question to answer, but we do know that resources tend to flow downwards, from the older generation to their adult offspring and grandchildren. The concentration of wealth among older age groups (see Chap. 1) provides some explanation for why inter-generational financial transfers tend to flow downwards. However, these aggregate patterns mask differences within older age groups, as not all older people have large amounts of housing and pension wealth. Studies also show, perhaps not surprisingly, that older people from better-off backgrounds are much more likely to give such gifts. Brandt and Deindl (2013) found that socio-economic background was a key variable in explaining financial transfers when analysing the SHARE data. Parents with greater economic resources gave their children financial transfers more often and in larger amounts than other parents. Parents were also more likely to give financial support to children who were unemployed , carers or students.

Albertini and Radi (2012) also analysed SHARE data and found substantial class differences in financial transfers even after controlling for income and wealth. Service class parents, in particular, transferred more resources to their children than working-class parents. This, they argued, suggests that inter-vivos gifts should be considered as a means of status reproduction. However, while wealthier people may have more money to give to their relatives than other groups, those from lower socio-economic groups may engage in more frequent smaller exchanges of inter-generational support (Dykstra and Fokkema 2011). Dykstra and Fokkema (2011) explain this as due to a stronger commitment to individualism among better-off groups. However, if they are simply giving greater amounts at fewer points in time, this commitment to individualism is perhaps more complex than it seems, if indeed it exists at all. Socio-economic factors are clearly of great significance to the debate on inter-generational relationships, though their precise place in the debate is not entirely clear (see also Timonen et al. 2013; Kohli 2015; Lersch and Lujikx 2015).

In a similar study in Sweden, Fritzell and Lennartsson (2005) found variations in financial transfers by social class, with a clear class gradient among donors. Those in the ‘upper non-manual category’ were most likely to have given financial support (25 per cent). Those in the ‘unskilled manual worker’ category were least likely (approximately 8 per cent). The class differences among those receiving financial support were less marked. Giving also varied by age, with the 60-69 age group being most likely to have given financial support (31 per cent). Logistic regression suggested that giving by higher non-manual workers had an odds- ratio that was nearly four times higher than unskilled manual workers. Income was also a significant predictor of giving, with those in the highest quintile having an odds-ratio three times that of the lowest quintile. However, class had an effect over and above household income (Fritzell and Lennartsson 2005). Having analysed the effects of other variables, such as gender, marital status and health, on the likelihood of giving, the strongest predictors of the prevalence of giving financial support were age, class and income (Fritzell and Lennartsson 2005). In terms of recipients, those in the highest two quintiles had a greater likelihood of being supported than those in the lowest. Thus, intra-family support tended to benefit better-off children.

The UK did not take part in the SHARE survey, but there are other data sets that have included some relevant questions on this topic. For example, the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing is a similar design to SHARE and is also based on a sample of people aged 50 and over. For the first time, Wave 6 of ELSA, in 2012, included questions on the lifetime receipt of inheritances and substantial gifts (defined as gifts worth ?1000 or more in today’s money). However, the data was only collected on the receipt of gifts and inheritances, so we are not able to tell whether older people are giving more frequently or in larger amounts to children/ grandchildren (particularly since the financial crisis). This data provides some interesting and useful data nonetheless (Crawford 2014). Less than a tenth (7 per cent) of respondents (those born between 1920 and 1959) had received one or more lifetime gifts (worth ?1000 or more in today’s money) at some point in the past. One in 20 (4.5 per cent) had received such a gift from a parent and 1 per cent from an uncle or aunt. Younger people in the sample (those born in the 1950s) were more likely to have received gifts than older cohorts.

There was considerable variation in size of gift received with a quarter reporting receipt of less than ?2000 but 1 in 20 reporting receipt of over ?100,000. This analysis offers further evidence of the role played by inheritances and gifts in reinforcing existing inequalities. For example, inheritances and gifts were more likely to have been received by households higher up the wealth distribution. For example, individuals in the top 10 per cent of the wealth distribution (conditional on positive wealth) were more than three times as likely to be in a household that had received an inheritance as individuals in the bottom 10 per cent. Having said that, the proportionate contribution of such wealth transfers was greater for those towards the bottom of the wealth distribution, so, in relative terms, wealth transfers had an equalising effect (Crawford 2014).

Using a different dataset, Chan and Ermisch (2011) drew on the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) to study the number of adult children giving help to parents and the proportion of parents helping children. Their results are consistent with earlier research which suggests intergenerational exchange being relatively rare but nevertheless important for those who receive it. The study also examined help given by parents to their adult children and its correlation with help received by parents. The evidence indicates that help is generally provided for a relatively short duration. Help provided by parents to children or received by them from their children is likely to be related to the parent’s age, and this is likely to be because parental needs increase with age. Chan and Ermisch (2011) also reported that parental help is often scaled up when children’s health or finances are worsening. Conversely, this help is often scaled back when children’s health or finances improve. Their finding suggests children and parents are responsive to each other’s needs at critical moments in the life course such as partnership breakup, widowhood and childbirth.

As suggested earlier, inter-generational exchange also varies depending on other variables. For example, there is research evidence in the USA that provides insights into patterns of inter-generational exchanges within ethnic minority families. Those studies that systematically compare intergenerational exchanges among representative samples of ethnic minority and white families have generally found that ethnic minority families did not receive more support than other groups. However, Hogan et al. (1993) reported that African American and Mexican American parents received comparatively less help than white households from grandparents. Moreover, they had, on average, more siblings competing for this support. Conversely, this means there are more adult children able to support grandparents (Eggebeen 1992).

As suggested in Chap. 2, family structures can also have an impact on financial transfers with single-parent families more likely than two-parent families to depend on support from extended kin (Gibson 1972; Tienda and Angel 1982). Ganong and Coleman (2006: 275) also studied step- families and found that ‘normative responsibilities to assist kin were greater than to assist step-kin , but where step-parents, for example, had previously, or were still currently, supporting their step-children, people were more likely to think that they should receive support from step-children. Reciprocity was therefore particularly important as a motivator for support between step-kin. In some cases, people felt that step-children should have an obligation to help a step-parent as a way of, albeit indirectly, fulfilling obligations to their parent. Where a step-parent then separated from a parent, people generally thought that this ended any obligations though, again, if the ex-step-parent continued to support step-children, or had done so in the past, then some continuing support from stepchildren was considered appropriate.

There has been considerable attention given to the factors influencing support of all kinds (not just financial) between parent and adult child.

For example, family structure and size have a major impact on levels of investment in children and socio-economic success. Some research, for example, suggests that parent-adult child exchanges are most common when dependent grandchildren are present (Eggebeen and Hogan 1990). Some evidence also suggests that receiving and giving support decline with age taking into account life-cycle stage of respondents and age and health of parents (Eggebeen 1992; Eggebeen and Hogan 1990). The presence of a daughter is also a factor in receiving assistance in old age (Logan and Spitze 1996). According to this study, a son is more likely to give financial or household assistance to parents, while daughters are more likely to provide advice and domestic care.

Physical distance can be another factor in relation to exchange of help (Hogan et al. 1993). Grandparental advice to parents diminishes with distance even after taking into account frequency of contact. Hogan et al. (1993) reported grandparents at greater distance do not substitute financial assistance for other forms of support. For parents, however, physical distance created less of a barrier to aid. Hogan et al. (1993) reported that physical distance was not a significant deterrent for parents; they were as likely to provide care during times of need and are even more likely to provide grandparents with monetary assistance. The research results in this study suggest that modern methods of transportation and communication have greatly diminished the effects of geographical access on the receipt of family support. The study suggests one possible reason is that younger cohorts of Americans (the parents’ generation) are more adept at using new technologies than their parents.

Much of the research in this field makes comparisons between families to identify which types of families are more or less likely to receive gifts. It is interesting, however, to consider how exchanges vary within families, and this was the focus of Fingerman et al.’s (2012) ‘within-family differences’ study which found that most parents differentiated among their offspring across various domains including closeness, confiding, preferences for care and instrumental and emotional support (see also Pillemer and Suitor 2006). There was little variation in this by the gender or ethnicity of the parent—for example, mothers and fathers had similar rates of differentiating between children; and children, themselves, were relatively accurate in predicting whether their mothers currently differ?entiated among them. But only about half of the adult children correctly identified which offspring their mothers favoured. Parents tended to favour daughters; children with similar values; children with whom they have a history of supportive exchanges and, in the case of closeness, last-born children (Pillemer and Suitor 2006). Where parents did differentiate, this caused more problematic relationships between siblings and higher levels of depression among children.

Much of the research in this field is relatively new, using relatively recent datasets. This makes it difficult to measure the extent to which family relationships may have changed over time. However, some studies in the USA have shown that baby boomers are much more involved with their own grown children than their parents were with them. For example, parents spent more time engaging with their children from 1975 to 1998 when the baby boomers were parents (Fingerman et al. 2012). One study showed that, in 1988, 46 per cent of parents gave advice to a grown child in the past month and 31 per cent gave practical assistance. By 2008, these figures had more than doubled to 89 per cent and 69 per cent, respectively (Eggebeen 1992; Fingerman et al. 2012). This increasing role played by parents has earned some the nickname, ‘helicopter parents’. These findings suggest that family support is increasing contrary to the image of the family ‘in decline’. Some research in the USA, however, has found that there has been a decline in parent-care norms between the 1970s and the 1990s (Gans and Silverstein 2006) as the values of individualism have correspondingly grown (Roberts and Bengston 1999). So perhaps this is a case of structural ambivalence with values suggesting that there should be independence between generations, whereas people, in practice, are supporting different generations more.

It is interesting to review the types of families that help each other out and how this varies by social class and so on. But what about external factors which might have an impact? One of the concerns here is that the welfare state may ‘crowd out’ family support by taking on functions of financial support and care which would otherwise be provided by family members. As mentioned above, the recent evidence suggests that resources tend to flow downwards in contemporary Western families, from the older generation to their adult offspring and grandchildren (McGarry and Schoeni 1995; Bengston and Harootyan 1994; Soldo and

Hill 1993; Attias-Donfut et al. 2005; Attias-Donfut and Wolff 2000; Kohli 1999; Kohli et al. 2000; Knijn and Komter 2004; Kunemund and Rein 1999). A major reason for this appears to be the development of welfare states, and public pension systems in particular, which have had a major impact on inter-generational flows of resources. It is argued that the financial support given by older parents to their adult children has often been made possible by the provision of public pensions and health care coverage. Rather than being crowded out by public support, downward transfers appear to be ‘crowded in’ by welfare systems.

Motel-Klingebiel et al. (2005) similarly found no evidence of ‘crowding out’ in their study of five varying welfare states (Norway, England, Germany, Spain and Israel). They found that the total quantity of help received by older people was greater in welfare states with a strong level of formal services. And when variations in ‘opportunities’ to provide informal support were taken into account, it became clear that far from being ‘crowded out’, families and welfare states shared responsibility for the welfare of older people. For example, while family help was significantly higher in countries with less generous welfare states (e.g. Spain) and lower in more generous welfare states (e.g. Norway), these differences were explained by demographic differences in those countries (i.e. the situations of older people in terms of their partnership status, health status, the number of children they had, etc.). In fact, the country differences in informal support became insignificant when the personal and household attributes of older people were taken into account. Motel-Klingebiel et al. (2005) therefore concluded that family support is independent of the welfare state. However, one of the variables they controlled for was normative beliefs about the role of the family, and this is likely to be linked to the kind of welfare state in place. Controlling for this variable may not, therefore, be appropriate, and we may get a different picture if we do not control for it. The study found that the highest level of support for older people was in Norway, a country with a strong welfare state, well-established services and a relatively affluent population, more able to support each other than people in less affluent societies.

Attias-Donfut et al. (2005) have also provided tentative evidence that in the more generous welfare states of northern Europe, parents provide financial support to their children more frequently but with less intensity than in the southern European welfare states, particularly Spain. These findings go some way towards supporting the notion that macro-level factors are connected with, and relevant to, micro-level inter-generational relations and transfers. As Albertini et al. (2007) suggest, we would expect inter-generational exchange to be more frequent and intense in countries where there is a legal obligation to support family members and where social assistance is not granted if parents or children can provide the support instead. Similarly, other macro-level factors such as the recent financial crisis, and the retrenchment of public provision, are likely to have an effect on the role of the family in relation to welfare, not only in traditionally family-orientated welfare states such as the Southern European ones, but also in Continental, Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian and Central- Eastern Europe.

Attias-Donfut and Ogg (2009) analysed SHARE data from two waves: 2004 and 2006-2007 and so carried out longitudinal analysis with the same sample of people. They found that people who received professional help/care for the first time between in this period did not receive less help from parents and friends. This suggests, again, that formal welfare help does not ‘crowd out’ the family but complements it.

Data from East Asia similarly confirms that welfare provision changes the nature of support. Prior to the introduction of state pensions in Korea, and in other East Asian countries, adult children supported their elderly parents with resources therefore tending to flow upwards rather than downwards (Izuhara 2002; Logan and Bian 2003; Kim 2010). Indeed, in the 1990s, adult children in Korea were estimated to have provided an average of between 50 and 60 per cent of the total income of older people (Jacobs 1998). However, the National Pension, a universal, contributory-based, pension scheme, was introduced in 1988 in Korea. Coverage is still low with only 27 per cent of those aged 65 and over receiving National Pension income in 2011 (Ministry of Health and Welfare of South Korea 2011). However, this already appears to be having an impact on inter-generational transfers as surveys of older people in Korea show the proportion reporting that financial contributions from their children constitute the largest single item in their income has progressively declined from 72 per cent in 1980, to 56 per cent in 1995 and to 32 per cent in 2003 (Kim 2010). This decline in upstream financial support therefore appears to have coincided with the widening of pension coverage.

As welfare states become embedded, they may change cultural norms, and this may also explain the downward flow of resources. In western societies, according to Descartes (2006: 138): ‘parents expect to help their adult children, at least under some conditions', but a violation of conventional independence norms (Pillemer and Suitor 2002) might prevent them from accepting financial support from their adult children. Timonen et al. (2013) also point to the ways that particular welfare regimes promote different kinds of inter-generational relationships. For example, liberal welfare states (such as Ireland and the UK) tend to encourage greater reliance on family (inter-generational solidarity) in place of reliance on state welfare. This encouragement is particularly strong, they argue, in times of economic crisis. Albertini et al.’s (2007) study of SHARE data also showed that private financial transfers varied from one welfare regime to another with less frequent but more intense transfers (in terms of time and money) in the Southern European welfare states than in the Nordic countries. Continental European countries fell somewhere between the two. They argued that ‘this welfare regime effect still holds after controlling for the most relevant characteristics of the parents (Albertini et al. 2007: 332). The authors call for a more detailed study of the social mechanisms of transfers at the micro level to help explain these variations.

Albertini and Kohli (2013) have taken this analysis of ‘transfer regimes’ further, pointing out that financial transfers have different aims, expressions and meanings in different countries. For example, in Southern Europe, families support each other more through co-residence, and little financial support is provided to those in different households. In contrast, there is much less multi-generational living in the Nordic countries where family members are more likely to provide direct financial support to members living independently. Once again, countries in the middle of the continent fall between these two extremes. Thus rather than seeing the Nordic countries as having a ‘weak’ family culture as opposed to a ‘strong’ family culture in the South (Reher 1998), family culture is similarly strong in different European countries but varies considerably in nature.

This raises the issue of ‘familialisation’ and ‘de-familialisation’, terms which have been used differently but most usually in relation to the impact of welfare states and family policy on gender roles and relations, particularly from a feminist perspective (Lewis 1992; Sainsbury 1994). Saxonberg (2013) has argued for re-framing this debate into one of ‘gen- derization’ and ‘degenderization’ to more accurately reflect the focus of discussion which has been primarily on the division of paid and unpaid care work within (nuclear) families between men and women. There has been much less discussion, in this literature, about inter-generational relationships per se and financial exchange between generations. However, Saraceno and Keck (2010) have used a slightly different terminology and identified three types of ‘familialism’ in terms of the degree to which legal and policy frameworks support the desire to help older and younger generations, thereby reducing inter-generational dependencies and gendered divisions of family labour. These three types were:

  • • familialism by default—where people are effectively forced to help relatives because there are insufficient public support services available
  • • supported familialism—where there are policies, including financial transfers, which support families to help each other
  • • de-familialisation—where needs are at least partly met through public provision (services, pensions, etc.) and there is little support for families to help each other (and little need to do so).

This typology goes beyond a simplistic public/private dichotomy to show how public support can provide incentives for private support.

While much of the research in this field has focused on the role of the welfare state in relation to different ‘transfer regimes’, Twigg and Grand (1998) point to the varying (and changing) legal frameworks in different countries which affect family obligations. In France, for example, families are legally obliged to support their older kin through obligation alimentaire, and inheritance law obliges family members to leave certain proportions of their estate to certain family members. In England, however, the means test for social security benefits was reformed and now only obliges couples to support each other and their dependent children

(aged up to 18). Testamentary freedom also allows people who die in England to leave the whole of their estate to whomever they choose, though some provisions to challenge wills do exist (Rowlingson 2016). The legal frameworks relating to family support are complex, vary by country and within country over time but nevertheless are important for understanding individual attitudes and behaviour as well as structural and cultural influences.

This book is focusing on large financial gifts as an example of functional integration/solidarity within families. But it is also important to remember that the care provided by family members is often overlooked when discussing inter-generational transfers, and yet it can, indirectly, represent a very large financial transfer. And while much of the focus is on care provided to elderly people by younger generations, grandparents increasingly provide substantial amounts of care to grandchildren which can enable both parents in the family to work and save the considerable costs of childcare in the UK. For example, Grandparents Plus (2013) analysed the ‘Understanding Society’ survey data and found that 15 per cent of all children aged 0 to 14 years received grandparental childcare in 2010-2011 and commented that this figure was rising. In the period 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, the number of children receiving informal childcare from their grandparents went up from 1.3 million to 1.6 million (from 11.7 per cent to 14.3 per cent of all children under 15). The total number of child-hours of childcare provided by grandparents over the year also rose from 1.3 billion to 17 billion. Informal care provided by grandparents played a key resource particularly for working mothers. More than one in four working families were reliant on grandparental care. The analysis suggested that this is likely to be important for lower- and middle-income women, who are less likely to return to work after maternity leave, and who may find it difficult to afford the cost of formal childcare. Half of mothers relied on grandparents to provide childcare when they first returned to work after maternity leave.

Grandparents Plus (ibid) estimated that the value of grandparent childcare in the UK was ?7.3 billion in 2010-2011 up from ?3.9 billion in 2004. While there was evidence that lone parents used informal care more than couples, overall there was no difference in the proportion of children from lone parent families looked after by grandparents for workrelated reasons compared with couple families. However, working lone parents of preschool aged children relied more overall on grandparents for help than working couples—including for childcare for non-work- related reasons. Children from middle- and lower-income household were more likely to be looked after by grandparents.

Beach (2013) also analysed the role of grandparents in relation to care but linked this to financial transfers as well, drawing on ELSA data in the UK. He found that grandparents were more likely to give money to grandchildren they provided care for. Overall, one-fifth of grandparents gave money to grandchildren in 2010. The figures were higher for grandparents aged 70-74 and those with higher incomes and wealth along with lower levels or no mortgage debt. Grandmothers were no more or less likely to give money compared with grandfathers. Beach concluded that grandparents will play a growing role in grandchildren’s financial lives in the future, not least in relation to funding higher education.

This review of the research on the nature of family relationships and inter-generational transfers tentatively suggests that we are witnessing a growth in structural ambivalence between the cultural values of individualism and the (increasing) desire/need to support family members. The next section of this chapter builds on this by focusing on why people give inter-generational gifts and the social norms around this.

  • [1] The LSOG began as a cross-sectional survey of more than 2044 three-generational family members, sampled from over 840,000 members of the primary HMO serving southern California at thetime. It has continued as a longitudinal study with data collected at three-year intervals, addinggreat grandchildren in 1991 (Bengston 2001).
  • [2] The first wave of SHARE took place in 2004. It contains data on inter-generational exchangesfrom the perspective of adults aged 50 and over in ten countries: Sweden, Denmark, theNetherlands, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Italy and Greece (Attius-Donfut et al.2005).
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