Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Cross-National Patterns of Intergenerational Contact in Europe

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Cross-National Patterns of Intergenerational Contact in Europe

Article excerpt


This paper investigates European patterns of intergenerational contact. A large number of studies in family sociology and gerontology demonstrate the explanatory power of micro-level variables, but the effect of the socio-cultural context on intergenerational arrangements rarely has been appraised. A comprehensive review of prominent classifications of European family and welfare regimes prompts the main research question: Do these macro-level typologies add heuristic value to the investigation of intergenerational arrangements in contemporary Europe? Further, as previous studies have focused mainly on Western Europe alone, Eastern European countries are included using comparable micro-data from the first wave of the Generations and Gender Survey (UNO, 2005). Launched and coordinated by the UNECE, the GGS panel survey was carried out between 2004 and 2010. Within each participating country nationally representative samples of the 18-79 year old resident population are conducted under the direction of national experts and institutions. For a selection of West and (South) East European countries the frequency of face-to-face contact of respondents aged 60 years and older to their adult children is explored. Controlling for several individual-level characteristics, significant country differences remain. A west-east division coincides with a less stark north-south division. Contact is most frequent in Georgia and Bulgaria; it is lower in Estonia, the Russian Federation, and Germany and lowest in France. Belgium, with its very high contact rate, is an exceptional case.

KEYWORDS: intergenerational contact, kinship system, welfare regime, cross- national comparison, Generations and Gender Survey, Europe


In the field of family sociology and social gerontology there is a plethora of studies that seek to explain intergenerational solidarity in advanced stages of relationships using micro-level variables. Most studies investigate opportunities and resources - such as geographic proximity or money - useful in maintaining specific (support) arrangements. The structure of needs, shaped by physical health for example, is especially examined. Other issues include the quality of the relationship, the history of intergenerational transfers within the relationship, and the strength of intergenerational obligation norms (e.g., Cox, 1987; Kalmijn, 2005; Katz et al., 2003; Klaus, 2009; Kohli & Künemund, 2003; Parrott & Bengtson, 1999; Silverstein, Parrott, & Bengtson, 1995; Stuifbergen, van Delden, & Dykstra, 2008).

Although countries differ in social, institutional, and cultural terms, large- scale contextual differences have rarely received attention in the literature on intergenerational solidarity. For Europe, well-known country typologies underscore that there is a considerable diversity in terms of the mode and scope of social benefit provision (e.g., Esping-Andersen, 1990). Countries differ, too, with regard to the long-standing family cultures in which intergenerational arrangements are embedded (e.g., Hajnal, 1965). Some recent comparative studies explore the implications of national socio-cultural settings for intergenerational relationships, but most of them focus on Western Europe countries only. Despite the fact that Eastern Europe differs significantly from Western Europe in at least two significant aspects, researchers have largely neglected including them in these comparative studies. First, the last decades have brought about tremendous social, economic, and political changes in the formerly socialist countries. Before their collapse in the early 1990s, Eastern Europe was characterized by planned economies and rather reliable welfare states. Although average real incomes were modest, Eastern Europeans did enjoy basic financial protection in retirement and in case of illness. Since the collapse of socialism, East European countries have experienced a profound transition to market economic systems in which welfare transfers have become both less reliable and less comprehensive. …

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