Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Private Transfers to Parents from Their Genetically Related and Nongenetically Related Children

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Private Transfers to Parents from Their Genetically Related and Nongenetically Related Children

Article excerpt


Ageing populations in Europe are facing opportunities, but also threats, such as insufficient provision of care to the elderly. Private transfers, that is, transfers that do not involve any public institutions, are one solution to this problem. In this paper, the hypothesis on altruistic transfers within families is investigated. We distinguish families with all children being genetically related to parents and families with at least one child nongenetically related to parents. We test whether the two types of families differ with respect to private transfers between parents and children. We examine a sample of parents aged 50+ in Europe. Our findings show that parents with a nongenetically related child are less likely to receive financial transfers from children than parents with all children genetically related. However, once a financial transfer from children to parents is made, its value does not differ between parents with and without a nongenetically related child.

Key words: ageing; family; altruism; private transfers


The issues of donation of time and money are the subject of research within economics, sociology, and psychology. Each of these disciplines applies its own methods in the research, but all of them refer to the concept of altruism (Bernheim & Stark, 1988; Elster 1999; Piliavin & Charng, 1999; Rushton, 1982). The possibility of a genetic component to altruistic inclinations receives careful attention. The two most pronounced theories explaining non-selfish behavior credit it to the natural selection between kin (kinship altruism) and non-kin (reciprocal altruism).

The seminal studies by Hamilton (1964) and Wilson (1976) argue that altruistic behavior performed toward genetically related individuals increases the reproductive success of genes common to an altruist and to the beneficiaries of his altruistic behavior. The hypothesis of kinship altruism is in line with the observation found in numerous studies of the prevalence of altruistic behavior toward kin, that is, individuals with a similar genetic code (Cigno, Giannelli, & Rosati, 1998; Warzywoda-Kruszynska, 2007). This hypothesis is in consonance with those given by Becker (1981) and Barro (1974) in their influential papers, where altruism operates foremost within the family. Even though alternative explanations to non-selfish behaviors were developed, there are such altruistic behaviors for which kinship selection remains the only plausible explanation (Silk, 2006).

If kinship altruism was responsible for all transfers, giving would not be observed between unrelated individuals. Thus, reciprocal altruism (Axelrod & Hamilton, 1981; Trivets, 1971) explains transfers between non-kin as an initial transfer that will be rewarded with a return transfer by a counterpart in the future. Such behavior is observed among different species of animals (e.g., K6nig, 2006; Trivers, 1971) as well as in human behavior (Trivers, 2006). This concept was incorporated to economic theory by Bernheim, Shleifer, and Summers (1985). Reciprocal altruism as a motive for transfers is often referred to as the exchange motive. This is the notion we follow.

In this paper we understand private transfers as financial or nonfinancial support between two private persons that does not involve any market or public institutions. We address the question of altruistic behavior between parents and their children by investigating intergenerational private transfers within families. This problem is relevant since the provision of care to the elderly in patchwork families becomes a more urgent issue in ageing populations. We test the hypothesis that transfers provided by children to their parent aged 50+ depend on their genetic relatedness. If private transfers are motivated by kinship altruism, transfers between parents and their children who inherited the parent's genes (genetically related) are more likely to occur than transfers between parents and their children who do not have common genes with the parent (nongenetically related). …

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