Academic journal article Demographic Research

Indonesia against the Trend? Ageing and Inter-Generational Wealth Flows in Two Indonesian Communities

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Indonesia against the Trend? Ageing and Inter-Generational Wealth Flows in Two Indonesian Communities

Article excerpt


Indonesian family systems do not conform to the prevailing image of Asian families, the predominant arrangements being nuclear and bilateral, with an important matrilineal minority. This paper considers the strength of family ties in two communities, focussing particularly on inter-generational flows of support to and from older members. Data are drawn from a longitudinal anthropological demography that combines ethnographic and panel survey methods. Several sources of variation in family ties are detailed, particularly the heterogeneity of support flows - balanced, upward, and downward - that co-exist in both communities. Different norms in each locale give sharply contrasting valuations of these flows. The ability of families to observe norms is influenced by the effectiveness of networks and by socio-economic status.

1. Introduction

The images evoked by the phrase 'strong family ties' are various, and will be treated in this paper as an open question needing more, and more nuanced, empirical study. As a starting point, we can take the seemingly unexceptionable proposition that the 'strength' of ties is defined by prevailing social norms: strong ties exist in societies in which positive intra-family relations are highly valued. What is this likely to entail? Most people will affirm as strong family values those that stress affective and moral bonds, flows of material support, proximity (which may or may not entail co-residence) and regularity of contact across the life course. The strength of ties, in other words, has a number of dimensions, both moral and behavioural. Some or all of these factors may be relevant in a given case. There are also structural sources of variation inhering in different family systems. Not only the changing demographics of birth, death, marriage and migration, but customary arrangements of joint, stem, nuclear and other family organisations, will mean that more or less extensive sets of kin are available to become potential loci of strong ties. Within these different systems, some kin roles are a greater locus of expectation and bonding than others.

Strong ties to some members may rest on mutual dependence. In other cases, 'strength' is one-sided - an asymmetry in the age, ability and wealth of family members willing to give support. Asymmetries often change during the life course, reflecting unavoidable physical dependence at the youngest and oldest ages, health or economic crises, or the impact of factors like migration. Reciprocity between generations is likely to be at best approximate, not only because kinds of support given and received are not strictly commensurable, but because they are distributed over differing intervals in a given elder's life course in which economic and social conditions vary. Those in younger generations who are in receipt of the most support from their elders are not necessarily the ones who in due course return the favour. The sentiment of strong ties between generations need not be influenced by this. Or, younger family and kin may feel obliged to help errant elders who have in the past done little for them. The shared resentment and guilt that not uncommonly arise in such circumstances may tie people together powerfully, but can such arrangements be included in the ideal that strength of ties is a positive norm?

In sum, at least six sources of variation appear to shape the strength of ties: 1. the normative form and composition of families; 2. expectations attached to particular gender and family roles; 3. demographics (which limit or expand the family size); 4. time, or the relative life course position of available members; 5. different types and levels of support; and 6. the directionality of support flows between generations. Reality thus moves inexorably away from the cosy world of idealised family bonds to the variability and uncertainty of ties in practice. Family members' capacities vary, and competing values beckon. …

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