Third Annual FamiliesAndSocieties Stakeholder Seminar: Intergenerational Linkages in the Family
The main questions discussed at the third FamiliesAndSocieties Stakeholder Seminar in Brussels were how laws and policies shape gendered interdependencies in families, how the so-called “sandwich generation” (those who are simultaneously raising a child and caring for parents, aged 45-69) cares for elderly parents across countries, and how the financial crisis has affected intergenerational patterns of family support across households. The event was chaired by Pearl Dykstra, Professor of Empirical Sociology at Erasmus University, Rotterdam and Vice President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and WP7 co-leader in the FamiliesAndSocieties project.
How do laws and policies shape gendered interdependencies in families?
In her presentation, Pearl Dykstra (Erasmus University, Rotterdam) pointed out that laws and policies shape interdependence in three different ways: First, by generating mandated generational interdependence (e.g., legal obligations to provide financial support); second, by blocking generational interdependence (e.g., grandparents not granted the right to raise grandchildren when parents cannot provide adequate care; migration laws not granting temporary visits to enable the provision of care); and third, by explicitly shaping intergenerational interdependence (e.g., a daddy quota, that is a not negligeable, non-transferable share of the parental leave reserved for fathers).
When looking at trends, Professor Dykstra identified a gender convergence in the structuring of interdependence by laws and policies. Yet, everyday practices point to differences in men’s and women’s lives, and gender differences in the use of public provisions. For instance, women are more often recipients of survivors’ benefits (due to gender differences in life expectancy), and they are more often users of care leaves and less often recipients of help at home.
Has the "daddy quota" made men more caring?
Professor Dykstra also presented findings from previous studies showing that parents with children born after the introduction of the daddy quota are less likely to experience conflicts over the division of household tasks and are more likely to share such tasks. The evidence also suggests an increase of father involvement in caring for the child after the introduction of the quota, particularly by highly educated men.
In a cross-country perspective, how does the sandwich generation care for their parents?
Irena Kotowska (Warsaw School of Economics) argued that across countries, family networks remain an important source of support to elderly parents. However, there are substantial country differences. For example, adult children in countries with weak formal care provision tend to support their parents more extensively than those in countries with more substantial care provision. Similarly, expectations that individuals should care for their parents and adapt their working lives to the parents’ needs is stronger in Central and Eastern European countries than in the West (FR) and the North (NO). In other words, stronger filial obligations induce more engagement.
Interesting similarities were also identified. In general, adult children tend to respond to the demand for care, and the health status of parents is what predominantly determines the care provided. More religious individuals are more likely to provide care for older parents, better educated adults are more inclined to care for their parents, and employed persons are more likely to provide care for their elderly mothers than unemployed ones.
Initiatives that aim to facilitate work-life balance are of key importance for the sandwich generation due to the challenge of meeting both labour market demands and increasing demands for care. Consequently, policy makers should pay special attention to the interdependencies between care for the elderly and the employment of individuals aged 45-69.
How has the crisis affected intergenerational patterns of family support across households?
In a study on attitudes towards social policies that are clearly oriented towards a specific age group (support for children, the young and the elderly), Pau Mari-Klose (University of Zaragoza), demonstrated that crisis frames strengthen the support for policies. But that support is particularly targeted to groups that are seen as more deserving (elderly individuals), while those actually hardest hit by the crisis – the young - are penalised.
Surprisingly, in terms of intergenerational transfers, Dr Mari-Klose showed that their impact in alleviating poverty is quite limited in Spain. Transfers are more likely to occur when non-co-resident children (children who do not live with their parents) are unemployed, but only households with a higher income are likely to provide financial help.
In the panel debate that followed the presentations, Anne Sophie Parent (AGE Platform Europe), Brando Benifei (Member of the European Parliament), Julius op de Beke (European Commission), Andrea Gerosa (ThinkYoung) and Pau Mari-Klose (University of Zaragoza) discussed the links between intergenerational relations within the family and the ones in societal and political spheres. In particular, the panel looked at the quality of intergenerational relations, how it is affected by the recent financial crisis, and what could be done to foster the exchange between younger and older people beyond the classical family. Several policy options and strategies, e.g. to help the so-called sandwich generation with their multiple care tasks, were put forward by the panellists. A third strand of the discussion centred around the question of how initiatives at the European level could create the momentum for necessary intergenerational policies in Member States. The panel debate was moderated by Harald Wilkoszewski (Population Europe Brussels Office). Highlights from the debate are presented below.
Brando Benifei (Member of the European Parliament): "Intergenerational policies are a crucial issue, and families cannot be left alone with the responsibility to care for older family members. Support from public policies is essential and the sustainability of generational solidarity needs proper solutions."
Julius op de Beke (European Commission): "Have a look at work-life balance possibilities – part-time work, distribution from work, working longer but less hours, flexible work, home office - they don’t have to cost the world!"
Anne Sophie Parent (AGE Platform Europe): "Rather than conflicts between generations, what we see at the moment are conflicts between social classes."
Pau Mari-Klose (University of Zaragoza): "I think there is a conflict. Young people have already moved to parties further right, or left. They don't feel represented."
Andrea Gerosa (ThinkYoung): "Young people today operate more in local spheres and through social media, but they are not acting less than previous generations."