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Motivations for Giving

Lifetime gifts can clearly have quite an impact on recipients’ lives-and those of the donors-even if they do not appear to have a major impact on relationships. Why then do people give such gifts? Our qualitative work has explored this question in great depth but we also used our survey research to measure the extent of some of the different motives emerging from our qualitative analysis. We found that over half of donors (53 per cent) simply said that they wanted to help (see Table 5.6). Two in five (41 per cent) said that it was ‘just what families do’. Respondents were able to give more than one answer as motivations are often multiple. A quarter of donors said that the recipients really needed the help and a small, though significant, percentage (7 per cent) said they had felt obliged to help. The feeling of obligation was greater among those aged 60-69: 13 per cent of this group said that they had felt obliged though a larger percentage than average also said they had given the gift(s) because they wanted to (63 per cent).

It is not easy to capture motivations in survey research as they are often complex and possibly even sub-conscious. People may also not wish to reveal or acknowledge some of their more conscious motivations, though they may be more likely to do this in qualitative research after some rapport has built up between interviewer and interviewee. We therefore explored the issue of motivations in our qualitative interviews.

As mentioned earlier in this book, a key motivator for donors was to help children make the transition to adulthood by becoming independent and successful. Motivations were therefore closely linked to the

Table 5.6 Why did you give this/these gift(s)? (Column percentages)


Wanted to help


It's just what families do


They really needed the help


Felt obliged to help




Don't know


Unweighted base: all given gift(s) in past


desire to have a particular impact on the recipients. Getting onto the property ladder was one way of doing this:

[My parents] knew it was a good investment. ... That it would help me get off, you know, and get into the property ladder. (Younger Generation, Kapoor Family)

The need to ensure that children and grandchildren were successful in school and then in higher education was another key motivator. The transition to adulthood is also, therefore, a transition to independent middle-class status. Social mobility concerns (whether maintaining the social class status of parents or improving on it) were therefore central to much of the underlying discourse around lifetime gifts. The baby boomer in the Allen Family felt this was an important factor behind her decision to ask her father for a loan to send her daughter to a private secondary school:

I wanted her to go to an all-girl’s school... I used to get the bus from the city centre, home from work, ... and all these girls would get on and they just oozed confidence, and they were just so self-assured young women, and it had really good academic records. And, I think, for me, as a working lone parent, I didn’t have to have to worry about anything, because I needed to concentrate on work. Does that make sense? And I knew that she would go to this school and be well looked after. (Baby Boomer, Allen Family)

Even though the younger generation in the Connelly Family had not completed his degree programme, he said that his mother (baby boomer) had already committed herself to paying for him to take a postgraduate degree:

I think they [parents] really wanted to sort of help me try and achieve what I wanted to. My mum said that if, even if wanted to do a masters or something like that she would [help financially]. (Younger Generation, Connelly Family)

The importance of providing access to good educational opportunities was also a strong feature in the Sharma Family. The older generation spoke of the financial support he gave to his children throughout their education:

I sent him [Baby Boomer] to the best schools. When we came here I sent him to private schools, so that he could have a good education, and then sent him to the university, I paid for all that. (Older Generation, Sharma Family)

Notions of independence were also linked to ideas about freedom. Financial support to help a younger family member meet the cost of driving lessons and the purchase of their first car was seen as an important step towards helping them gain independence and important life skills:

For me starting to drive young, I can learn young and then have it through my life. I think, deep down, so that I can drive her [mum] around. Yeah, maybe [laughs], ‘cause she’ll get the benefits. I’ll drive places and that means she doesn’t have to pay for a taxi, so she’s not forking out loads for a taxi. She gives me a couple of pounds, but it’s not as much as a taxi. No, I think it’s more that she just wanted me to be able to drive, to give me more freedom to get about and stuff (Younger Generation, Edwards Family)

Independence for children also meant independence for their parents of course:

To make me happy ... No, to make me mobile, you know, to help my independence, because if I had my own car, they wouldn’t have to drive me around. (Baby Boomer, Jacobs Family)

The baby boomer in the Connelly Family talked about the financial support given to the younger generation to pay for his private rented housing while at university to enable him to have ‘the whole university experience’. She accepted the contradiction in paying for the cost of helping the younger generation gain his independence by living away from the parental home for the first time:

Giving him support so that he can develop and he doesn’t need it in the future and he knows that we’re there and he knows where it comes from and he knows that it’s expensive and he knows you know without nagging him about but he knows, he’s not stupid by any means, and I’ve no doubt he appreciates it but I think it makes him a more independent person [okay]. That’s sound—double Dutch doesn’t it because we’re paying for it to make him independent, that sounds mad I know but I’m looking at the long term. (Baby Boomer, Family 3)

While families wanted to support their children in many ways, there was also concern about potentially ‘spoiling’ children. This often manifested as a dilemma for the donor. The baby boomer in the Irvine Family spoke of his concern over his son’s (younger generation) car and how this was the reason that he decided to pay for its maintenance:

because if you don’t help there’s a danger element there, you don’t want them going round with bald tyres, you don’t want them going round with no oil in the engine and things of that nature because there are some safety issues there and, we’re reaching a point where we might do something ... he’s [Younger Generation] not a mechanic, he never will be in a month of Sundays so he depends on the garage, the garage are expensive. (Baby Boomer, Isaacs Family)

The desire to make younger family members independent was often mixed with ambivalence around not wanting to spoil children:

She ... started developing a little bit of what we felt was taking it for granted and there was an incident recently when her car wanted some money spending on it and we felt she should have spent it herself, . she kept saying the air conditioning’s playing up, the air conditioning’s playing up and I kept saying well take it to Kwik Fit, [she] never did and that was a signal to me that we’re just being a little bit too easy going here, we need to be ... stiffen up a little bit, in her interest... in her own interest, ‘cos otherwise she’s going to carry on taking too much for granted and find it too easy and miss out on some responsibility issues related to finances. (Baby Boomer, Irvine Family talking about his daughter)

The baby boomer went on to say:

I do what I can, but I don’t want ever for her not to be able to cope financially on her own either, otherwise Im not doing her any favours. So I don’t want to make it too easy for her, within reason, but I would never see her go short of anything, you know, she’s the only one I’ve got.

Donors often balanced wanting to maintain what they considered an important principle around working hard to achieve goals in life, while at the same time not wanting to see a loved one suffer if they had the resources to help. The baby boomer in the Henry Family talked at length about her decision to contribute towards the cost of her daughter’s first car after passing her driving lessons. She was ambivalent at the time when she was initially approached because she did not feel that it was appropriate for her to have a car, but she realised after much persuading that her daughter felt the car was important investment in being independent:

What’s my motivation? Good question really, you want to make your children happy don’t you, you want to, you know, there’s a fine line between spoiling them and you know, if you have got the means, it’s almost sometimes churlish not to give it, you know, if it’s not causing you that much of a problem to give it, and that is a difficulty I think, living in this area, you know, your children see things and they want things because you live round here, and then for you to try and keep a line of saying, well, no, and I did keep that line with the car actually but she found another way of getting round it, because I don’t personally think 17 year olds need cars to drive to college, but it’s quite difficult to hold onto all of your own values when you’re subjecting your children to other experiences. (Baby Boomer, Henry Family)

The daughter’s determination and the fact that she presented her mother with what seemed a ‘workable plan’ to split the cost secretly impressed her mother who relented in the end:

I didn’t think she needed a car at 17, but she is motivated and she did then earn the money and buy her own car, so the driving lessons. (Baby Boomer, Henry Family)

As well as supporting young people to become independent and successful, there was also a strong sense of wanting to protect another family member from harm and wanting to avoid family members from struggling. This could be seen in the George Family. The older generation talked about the financial help she gave to one of her daughters who was struggling with a credit card debt:

you don’t want to see them [children] struggling if you are able to give a helping hand. I don’t think you would anyone. ... If it had been somebody close, you know, who would have asked for help, or I could see they wanted help, and I was able to do it, then I would, you know, I would have done the same thing. But you don’t see your own, you know, struggling, if you can help out. (Older Generation, George Family)

The baby boomer in the Allen Family summed up the complex interplay between wanting to support but not spoil and wanting to encourage independence but also ensure family members are not struggling:

I think she [Younger Generation] has a very privileged life at the moment, which can’t carry on forever. Right now I would absolutely give her everything that I’ve got, if she needs money, if she needs taking on holiday. At the moment me and her dad pay her rent on her flat. Her fees get paid; she has to pay fees, even though she’s in university, and I’ve, sort of, said to her, ‘You possibly wont be as financially comfortable once you leave uni, than you are now’. A reality check, sort of thing, [laughs]. So, I think, yeah, I mean I do what I can, but I don’t want ever for her not to be able to cope financially on her own either, otherwise Im not doing her any favours. So I don’t want to make it too easy for her, within reason, but I would never see her go short of anything, you know, she’s the only one I’ve got. (Baby Boomer, Allen Family)

With the lower birth rate of recent decades, the number of families having only one child have increased, providing greater focus of attention and resources in those children.

Where we found examples of ambivalence in financial giving within families, this tended to reflect difficulties within relationships between family members. For example, the baby boomer in the Edwards Family talked of the difficult relationship she had with her father who had been separated from her mother when she was very young and had been living overseas for some time. The father (who did not take part in the study) had paid for the baby boomer to attend boarding school, because he wanted her to have a good education. He also gave her money to travel overseas to visit him with her children, but she felt that this effort to try to build the relationship had been driven by guilt because of the erratic contact with her and her brother:

My dad... sent my brother and myself $12,000, which worked out to ?7,000, but I think that’s because he has never done anything else in his life for us, really ... and he feels a bit guilty [laughs] now. (Baby Boomer, Edwards Family)

He had also made a number of promises to give the baby boomer and her sibling a substantial sum of money which did not materialise. When the baby boomer’s relationship ran into difficulties, she contacted her father for help in buying a property and she was disappointed when he refused because he said that she should be more independent and ‘look after herself’:

Again, many years ago, when I split up with my husband, I was looking at how I was gonna afford to buy somewhere, so I knew my dad had more money than my mum, anyway, so I asked him if he could, sort of, put some money into a property, that would still be his. I mean, it’s difficult because he lives [overseas], anyway, but he said no ... I think he feels that you’ve got to, sort of, look after yourself in life. He came from nothing, really, and has done well in business, and I think he thinks, ‘Well, you need to sort yourself out’. (Baby Boomer, Edwards Family)

While most families in the study talked positively about family support given and received, there were some examples where gifts and inheritance caused (potential) conflict.

The older generation in the Docherty Family spoke of her concerns over what to do with the family home which she lived in with her husband and two other adult children. She said that she had other children who had already established housing careers and had bought property. She talked about the dilemma she and her husband were facing in terms of how to split the proceeds of the family home in the event of their deaths: [1]

This respondent also spoke of her personal experience of being ‘overlooked’ by a deceased sibling in her will. In the end, the baby boomer’s siblings made sure that she received a share of the inheritance:

my sister died last year. She left everything to [my siblings]. She didn’t leave anything to me. There you go ... some years earlier my husband’s father died and he left everything to the brother, left nothing to [him]. ... I said to him, ‘What’s wrong with us?’ But anyway [my siblings split the money] three ways instead of just having it between themselves. They did it for us ... we appreciated that. We thought that was lovely. (Older Generation, Docherty Family)

Underlying these particular motivations, we can detect elements of altruism, self-interest, reciprocity and duty in relation to notions of ‘family’ which shed light on the nature of inter-generational relationships and contracts. For example, this desire to help children become independent was often part of an ideology of family based on reciprocity as the baby boomer in the Bennett Family explained when he talked about the way that the support he had received from his parents influenced the way that he supported his own children (younger generation) when they went to university:

Then you become a parent yourself and you start that whole process with your own children ... and it just seems to me that that’s what families are all about. (Baby Boomer, Bennett Family)

Members of this family both wanted to help and had the resources to do so:

We don’t do it out of any sort of duty or anything like that. It’s just if we can help, then we’ll do it. (Older Generation, Bennett Family)

This experience of support from his parents influenced the way that he did the same for his children when they went to university:

Then you become a parent yourself and you start that whole process with your own children. Then your own parents become older and it just seems to me that that’s what families are all about. (Baby Boomer, Bennett Family)

The younger generation in the Bennett Family also acknowledged that his grandfather (older generation) was denied a chance to go to university and felt this was a strong motivation for supporting and encouraging him and his father (baby boomer):

I think they would very much, like, want me to have better opportunities than they did, ... I think my grandad would have loved to go to university and things like that. ... He couldn’t go to grammar school because his family couldn’t afford it. (Younger Generation, Bennett Family)

This is a clear example of reciprocity down the generations. But there were other examples of more direct reciprocity in this same family. For example, the baby boomer in the Bennett Family acknowledged the impact that financial support and general encouragement given to him by his parents had not only on his experience at university but in his attitude towards his parents:

When I was between 16 and early twenties and going to university ... the expectation of many other people of my background might’ve been to leave school when they were 16. It was still the days of leaving school at 16, get a job, and it was very much part of the thinking of society. ... They really did their very best to support me at that stage. So at the stage of their lives, when they might need it, I suppose I would want to repay that; but it would be wanting to do it. I cant imagine myself ever thinking, ‘Oh well, Im doing that because I’ve got to, because Im obliged to do it’. (Baby Boomer, Bennett Family)

The baby boomer in the Frederick Family was quick to acknowledge that there were few occasions when he could reciprocate the financial support he received from his mother (older generation), not least because she was reluctant to accept offers of financial support. He did recall a time when he paid for his mother to go on holiday. He felt strongly that this was part of how his family worked:

It’s part of our family, that’s how we function, that’s what we do. It’s no other motivation than that really. (Baby Boomer, Frederick Family)

Sometimes recipients were able to reciprocate directly following a gift. And sometimes the gift was a joint arrangement that the recipient had also contributed to:

I was appreciative of it, but I also thought that it was fair, because I felt like I’d made a contribution by buying the car. And because I was helping with the lifts

of my sister......I felt like it was, kind of, like, it was generous, but it was also

fair... Kind of, yeah. It’s because it wasn’t just, like, I turned 17 and there was a car on my drive with the insurance paid for, brand new, kind of, thing. Like, it was a second-hand car which I had to partly work for, like, it wasn’t just a big gift. I was, like, we all put something into it. (Younger Generation, Henry Family)

The desire to help sometimes appeared to go beyond reciprocity to more altruistic support with sacrifices made to help family members. The baby boomer in the Sharma Family spoke of the financial support to his children in much the same way that his father (older generation) supported him and his siblings:

It has been no different to before because we’ve had three children in full-time education, all three of them were at private school, and this is just a continuation of the financial outgoing I suppose. We have had to make sacrifices both my wife and I. ... But that’s the sacrifice we have to make to ensure that our children have the opportunities, just like I had the opportunity. (Baby Boomer, Sharma Family)

Some families had very little money to support younger generations and so, again, could be described as altruistic but they did benefit from the ‘warm glow’ of pride in their children’s achievements. The older generation in the Bennett Family spoke of his pride seeing his son (baby boomer) being the first member of the family to go to university:

Now, it was rather a different matter when [our son, Baby Boomer] went to [university]. ... We’d never had a great deal of money. We’d always had to manage, which we did. We’d never get into any debt to speak of at all. But, on the other hand, the general financial things were very, very different from what they are now. And, at that time, [he] got the full grant. And he was pushed by one of his teachers [to apply for a university place]. And [he] wasn’t too keen. And I said, ‘Well, there’ll be no harm if you put your name forward. What are you losing? Go and see’. ... First one in my family to go to university. (Older Generation, Bennett Family)

The younger generation in the Connelly Family also felt that the older generation took pride in support younger family members go to university:

I guess she [Older Generation] was quite proud... there’s five of us have gone to university out of well 29 cousins. ... But I think [its] something that she’d always saved up for and she sort of put money in a bank for us for a long time. (Younger Generation, Connelly Family)

Reciprocity and altruism were prevalent but notions of ‘duty’ were also present. The older generation in the Sharma Family spoke of his ‘duty’ in providing financial support to his children (which he did in terms of support in their education and housing) to enable them to become independent:

Yes, I felt it was my duty, as a father, to support my son and to ensure that they are self sufficient, help them, support them, getting them married, getting them established in the marriage life, getting established in a vocation, and that they have started learning, I monitored them until then, now I let them loose to make their own decisions. (Older Generation, Sharma Family)

‘Duty’ here is not necessarily something taken on begrudgingly as any kind of burden but is linked to ideas about what it means to be a father. Duty was also linked to altruism by the Kapoor Family along with pride and happiness:

When the children were born I think the grandparents are the happiest people on earth, so any expense that comes I think theyit’s like their duty really, they say it’s our duty, because they’re older in the family and all the family they come to wish you well, so they basically take over and say well this is our, they’ll raise ... whatever they need, and basically I think it’s like a duty really, they say it’s our duty. Don’t you worry. They were so proud. [laughs]. (Baby Boomer, Kapoor Family)

  • [1] can see a big falling out one of these days, when we’ve gone. ... I don’t know,I’ve just got that feeling. ... I think the two lads upstairs they wouldn’t sell thehouse, would they, I know they wouldn’t. ... I think they would tend to loanthe money and ... pay them other two off (Older Generation, DochertyFamily)
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