Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Patterns of Intergenerational Transfers in Southeast Asia

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Patterns of Intergenerational Transfers in Southeast Asia

Article excerpt

This article explores motivations for intergenerational exchanges of time and money using data from Indonesia. The extent of exchange and underlying motivations differ across families but substantial evidence supports the theory that transfers within families serve as insurance for family members. The results also suggest that between some parents and children money is exchanged for time. Additionally, some evidence is consistent with the idea that parents pay for their children's education partly as a loan that is later repaid. The authors compare their results to those that they obtained previously for Malaysia using similar data and methods. The findings regarding motivations for transfers are remarkably similar across the two countries.

Key Words: aging, Asia, exchange, family, transfers.

The family is a critical social institution in providing support to its members. The effects on this support of changes in family structures, such as longer life expectancies and greater diversity of family forms, are hotly debated in academic and policy circles (Bengtson, 2001). One function families provide is the transfer of resources-both time and money-among family members. Scientific inquiry into transfers across generations encompasses macro and micro perspectives. A considerable literature addresses the evolution of transfer patterns as societies industrialize, pass through the demographic transition, and develop more sophisticated public and private financial services (Cowgill & Holmes, 1972; Goode, 1963; Parsons, 1943; Ruggles, 1987; Willis, 1982). Other research models decision making within families to generate predictions about transfer behavior (Becker, 1974, 1991; Becker & Tomes, 1976; Cox, 1987).

Complementing theoretical work, empirical analyses consider how characteristics of parents and children are related to transfer behavior. In most developing countries families are the primary source of support for aging individuals. The policy salience of family transfer behavior has increased in the developing world as the share of the elderly population rises but government and private mechanisms of old age support remain limited. Families as a source of old age support have received particular attention in Asia, where populations are aging rapidly (Hermalin, 1997; Kinsella, 2000; Knodel & Debavalya, 1997; Knodel, Friedman, Ahn, & Cuong, 2000; Martin, 1989).

We examine interhousehold transfers between adult children and their parents in Indonesia. The analyses test hypotheses of models of motives for intergenerational transfers. To fully explore these models, one must consider the overall process of exchange rather than limiting analysis to a narrow demographic group, a discrete type of support, or transfers in one direction (Hogan, Eggebean, & Clogg, 1993). We consider giving and receiving, of time and money, from the perspectives of parents and adult children. Thorough analysis also requires detailed data on both generations. We use extremely rich data from the Indonesia Family Life Survey.

We set the stage for our analysis of Indonesia by describing results obtained for Malaysia (Lillard & Willis, 1997b). The comparison is interesting because the countries are sufficiently similar to suggest common patterns of transfers and underlying motivations for them. Moreover, because the data from the two countries are almost identical, the comparison is relatively free from the differences in data set content and methods that often hinder cross-country comparisons.


Several family theories address motivations for family transfers and generate hypotheses regarding the empirical relationships of characteristics of parents and children to transfers between them. In a model of the family developed by Becker (1974, 1991) each household's head allocates resources among family members so that no one can be made better off without making someone else worse off. …

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