Measuring Intergenerational Financial Support: Analysis of Two Cross-National Surveys

By Emery, Tom; Mudrazija, Stipica | Demographic Research, July-December 2015 | Go to article overview

Measuring Intergenerational Financial Support: Analysis of Two Cross-National Surveys


Emery, Tom, Mudrazija, Stipica, Demographic Research


1. Introduction

The process of societal ageing raises many questions about the relationship between generations. With an increasing number of older persons relative to younger persons, it should be expected that intergenerational relationships are changing in their nature and form, and this is reflected by the rich literature that examines this topic. However, whilst substantive research questions are of importance, the ability to answer them is dependent upon data that accurately measures various aspects and dimensions of intergenerational relationships, exchange, and solidarity. This paper explores one such dimension, intergenerational financial transfers, and examines the existing instruments designed to measure this phenomenon in two social surveys: the Generations and Gender Programme (GGP) and the Survey of Health Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). From this evaluation, broader lessons for those studying intergenerational relations are drawn.

By considering the conceptualization, instrument design, and sampling unit associated with intergenerational financial transfers, this paper shows that there are significant differences in the way the GGP and SHARE conceptualize and measure intergenerational financial transfers. For example, the questions regarding financial transfers in SHARE and the GGP use different prompts, reference periods, and anchors, and these result in very different transfer levels being reported across countries. The extent to which these different conceptualizations of intergenerational financial transfers fit into theories of intergenerational relationships is therefore of considerable importance when making substantive conclusions about the scope and nature of intergenerational financial transfers. By examining the differences between the SHARE and the GGP, it is shown that the existing instruments capture different behaviours.

These differences have substantive implications for the study of intergenerational relationships and this paper argues that the analysis of intergenerational relationships is susceptible to methodological issues and impediments that need to be addressed by studies in the field. The conclusion details the potential consequences of these limitations and how they might be better addressed in the future by social surveys such as SHARE and the related family of surveys such as the GGP and household panel studies. The findings of this paper suggest that whilst the existing surveys are excellent, substantive research should avoid being overly dependent on a single survey or data source.

2. Background

2.1 Intergenerational transfers

There has been significant research into intergenerational financial transfers in Europe over the past decade as part of a broader interest in intergenerational exchange. Much of the existing literature on intergenerational financial transfers from parents to their adult children has come to the same conclusion: parents are a non-negligible source of financial support for young adults (Kohli 1999; Attias-Donfut, Ogg, and Wolff 2005). Subsequent research has elaborated on this and shown that transfer behaviour is highly dependent on the circumstances of the parent and the child (Albertini, Kohli, and Vogel 2007; Schenk, Dykstra, and Maas 2010). This approach looked to enrich previous analyses by taking into consideration the specific circumstances of parent and child as well as the cultural and institutional context in which the relationship existed (Szydlik 2008).

The interplay of parent and child characteristics has led to a considerable acceleration of our understanding of intergenerational exchange and this line of investigation has dominated the most recent transfer literature. Research has shown that transfer behaviour is associated with a diverse range of factors such as socio-economic background (Albertini and Radl 2012), family size and birth order (Emery 2013), and the child's decision to leave home (Albertini and Kohli 2012). …

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