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



Financial gifts within families have provided the focus for this book’s exploration of the nature of inter-generational relationships and family life in twenty-first-century Britain. We have investigated these relationships both from a macro perspective (in society as a whole) and from a micro perspective (within particular families). This chapter summarises our key contribution to two major debates in this field.

The first of these two major debates concerns the highly public debate about the potential for inter-generational conflict due to the relative wealth of the baby-boom generation compared with the economic difficulties facing younger generations. Here, we show, throughout the book, that there is no agreed definition of ‘the baby-boom generation’ and they are a diverse group in many ways, not least in terms of age and wealth (see Chap. 2). It therefore makes little sense to focus on this group as if it is a homogeneous cohort. Furthermore, while it may be true that some older people currently benefit more in some areas of policy and public expenditure than younger groups (see Chap. 2), this does not mean, as sometimes suggested, that we should reduce support for older people (see below). And there is certainly little appetite for cuts to pensions or © The Author(s) 2017

K. Rowlingson et al., Inter-generational Financial Giving and Inequality, Palgrave Macmillan Studies in Family and Intimate Life,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-349-95047-8_8

social care among people of all ages, not just those who currently benefit from those policies (see Chap. 7). Following on from this, there is little evidence of manifest tension or conflict between generations either at the macro (social) level or at the micro (within-family) level (see evidence presented throughout the book). If anything, there seems to be an increase in willingness to support family members given the challenging times that many are facing.

The second major debate we contribute to is on the nature of ‘family’ and family relationships in the twenty-first century in terms of solidar- ity/conflict/ambivalence and al truism/self-in terest/reciprocity. Chapter 3 reviewed evidence on changing family structures and relationships along with the debates and frameworks associated with these changes. The nature of ‘the family’ has certainly changed over time in terms of the structure of ‘nuclear’ and ‘extended’ forms. While the ‘nuclear family’ remains the main building block for family life, it has changed since the 1950s from a traditional model of two married biological parents living with their children to more diverse forms of nuclear family, involving cohabitation, same-sex relationships and step-parenting. At the same time, extended family members such as grandparents and uncles/aunts also appear to be playing a larger role in family life than during the heyday of the traditional nuclear family. But family life cannot be inferred simply from structures and so we consider the different dimensions of family life (from frequency of contact, emotional closeness, agreement on values, etc.) to explore its changing nature with a focus on ‘functional integration’ (the exchange of support) in the form of financial exchange. This focus reveals a considerable degree of inter-generational solidarity within families, though also much ambivalence. As we discussed in Chap. 3, structural ambivalence occurs when broad cultural values/expectations, such as being ‘independent’, come into conflict with particular personal feelings. For example, many people value the idea of ‘independence’ but feel compelled, due to prevailing conditions (not least changes to higher education finance, difficulties with the labour and housing markets, particularly for younger people) to provide considerable support to younger generations. This support is therefore in conflict with the aspiration and expectation to be independent.

In order to understand the nature of ‘the family’, the book has particularly focused on people’s understandings of ‘obligations’ to support members. Here, we have considered the role of ‘social norms’ or moral judgements about how families should respond to their members in different circumstances. As already discussed, we find a considerable degree of support for helping family members financially in different circumstances, and we also find particular agreement about the kinds of factors to take into account when making decisions about this. The nature, level and reason for the need are the factors to be weighed up against the ability of another family member to provide help. People make judgements about how ‘deserving’ family members might be and also sometimes place conditions on the support provided. In many ways, judgements here echo the ways in which the welfare state has evolved to provide for people’s needs. Interestingly, when considering particular cases of potential need for family support, people do, quite spontaneously, engage with broader structural issues and, in many cases, show a preference for collective solutions (e.g. better provision of social care for older people or more affordable housing, etc.). Families are still clearly willing to support each other and, indeed, see this as part of what ‘doing family’ or perhaps even just ‘being family’ is all about. But they also want family support to be just one element of the broader support available from a well-functioning welfare state.

In contributing to these two key debates about inter-generational relationships and family life, two cross-cutting themes clearly emerge as being of critical importance. The first is the growing socio-economic inequality between families/within generations. The second is the interaction between family relationships and broader socio-economic structures, such as the higher education sector, the labour market, the housing market and the welfare state. Our work highlights the degree to which inter-generational solidarity through financial exchange at the micro (within-family) level is often a response to changing socio-economic structures, but this response then serves to entrench and widen existing inequalities between families at the macro level (within society) as some families are far more able to provide considerable levels of support to their members compared with other families.

This chapter reviews our contribution to these debates and then proposes various policy changes which would reduce inequalities both between and within generations while maintaining inter-generational/ family solidarity.

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