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



This chapter has revealed that, according to recipients, lifetime gifts made a major difference to their lives but, surprisingly perhaps, neither donors nor recipients generally said that these gifts make a difference to the relationships they had with each other. This could be because those who gave such gifts already had good relationships with their families and the gifts were therefore just a ‘symptom’ of this rather than leading to a change in the relationship. People with weak relationships may be less likely to give substantial gifts. However, a substantial minority did report that gifts strengthened their relationships, particularly in working-class families. Loans were also more likely, on balance, to strengthen rather than weaken relationships but they were also more likely, compared to gifts, to weaken relationships, particularly from the point of view of the lender. And this is particularly the case among middle-class lenders, who were less likely to have their loans repaid. Those who received loans did not report such a weakening and we do not know, from our data, if they were conscious of how the lender might see the impact on the relationship where it was different from their own view of it.

In terms of the impact on donors, most did not have difficulty finding money for gifts though a significant minority did. Most people found the money from regular income or savings. Middle-class donors were more likely to find the money through other assets, such as pension lump sums, selling shares and downsizing their property. Working class donors were more likely to face difficulties finding money for gifts. And those who did find it difficult to fund gifts were more likely to be helping relatives with debt problems and everyday living expenses. They were also more likely than average to fund the gifts through taking out personal loans and selling possessions.

Our qualitative work delved deeper into the motivations people had for giving gifts. A number of strong themes emerged here. Donors talked about helping younger people to become independent, for example, in relation to housing and education. This desire was also linked to preserving or improving their children’s social class position. Some parents reflected on the potential irony that the provision of financial support was seen as the way to achieve independence. Others were concerned about potentially ‘spoiling’ their children in the sense that children would find it more difficult to become independent if they were given (too much) support. However, this was then balanced with the desire to avoid family members struggling if resources were (easily) available to help them out.

Respondents referred to the provision of financial support within families as reflecting what families are ‘all about’. Part of this was a reciprocal generational contract in the sense of every generation helping the next one in order that all generations benefit. For others, there was more direct reciprocation occurring between family members. Some people referred to financial support as part of parental duty towards children though this was not in the sense of an ‘obligation’. It was, again, part of defining what a parent’s role was. The over-arching impression from the interviews was that gift-giving forms a key part (though not always a very conscious part) of ‘doing family’. It also involves a huge range of emotions, from happiness and hope to pride, guilt and anxiety.


Hills, J., Bastagli, F., Cowell, F., Glennerster, H., Karagiannaki, E., & McKnight, A. (2013). Wealth in the UK: Distribution, accumulation and policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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