<< . .

. 14
( : 23)

. . >>

(176) (136) (16) (12) (25) (24) (62) (48) (18) (12)
(N) (303) (29) (60) (83) (23)

Note: N = 498. The deviation from N = 513 is due to missing participants.
Source: Komter and Schuyt (1993b).

An important precondition to participation in gift exchange is taking
part in social networks, circles of friends or family members who meet
each other on a more or less regular basis. Many gifts are given dur-
ing informal meetings between friends (sometimes colleagues) or while
having dinner or drinks together. We know by now that much gift giving
takes place within still unsettled, yet important social relationships. Our
research results con¬rm this: students appear to be great givers. Other
very important occasions of gift giving are the many rituals still surviving
in our society. Highlights of ritual gift giving are, of course, Christmas,
Valentine™s Day, anniversaries, births, wedding ceremonies, jubilees, and
the like. Ritual gift giving seems to occur more often within relation-
ships, which have become more or less settled. Women presumably play
an important role in ritual giving. Indeed, con¬rming both Caplow™s and
Cheal™s studies on this point (Chapter 4), the housewives in our sample “
together with the students “ prove to be the greatest givers, as is shown
in Table 6.5.

Solidarity and Selectivity

The Matthew Effect of Gift Giving

Who are the poorest givers and recipients? Table 6.5 shows the results.
Unemployed people appear to give less to others than all other categories
of respondents, and this holds for all kinds of gifts. The unemployed also
appear to receive less than the other respondents on all kinds of gifts,
except staying at another person™s house. Many authors have pointed to
the restricted social networks of people living on minimum wages or
on unemployment bene¬ts (Engbersen et al. 1993). Together with their
poor ¬nancial resources, this might explain the low level of gift exchange
among the unemployed. For those living on a retirement pension the
same pattern shows up as with the unemployed. With the exception of
money gifts, retired people give somewhat less to others, compared with
the other categories of respondents. Retired people, however, also receive
less than the other categories of all kinds of gifts, except presents; in
general, they are the lowest recipients of all categories of respondents.
To summarize: those who give much are also the ones to receive a great
deal; this is the positive side of reciprocity. The negative side manifests
itself with those categories of people who are not in the position to give
much themselves, the (long-term) unemployed and elderly people; they
prove to be the lowest recipients. When one™s social and material condi-
tions are such that it has become dif¬cult “ if not impossible “ to give to
other people and, related to this, when one has become devoid of social
networks, one seems to receive in proportion very little.
Solidarity clearly has a selective character: people seem to choose “
probably mostly not in a conscious way “ those social partners in their
gift relationships who are “attractive” to them, because they can expect
them to give in return at some time. The rule of reciprocity tends to dis-
advantage those who are already in the weakest social position. Merton
has called the process of disproportionate accumulation of bene¬ts to
those who already have much (in his case academic bene¬ts, like recog-
nition and fame in the academic world) the “Matthew effect,” after Saint

Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

table 6.6. Different Kinds of Help toward the Different Recipients

Different Kinds of Help, N (%)a
Daily Help Relational
Incidental (transport, (support,
(moving, gardening, comfort, Total
Recipients small jobs) shopping) talk) Childcare Other Amount
Parents (in-law) 29 (24.8) 64 (54.7) 10 (8.6) 2 (1.7) 12 (10) 117
Own children 20 (54) 5 (13.5) “ 10 (27) 2 (5) 37
Extended family 54 (32.7) 34 (20.6) 23 (13.9) 39 (23.6) 15 (9.1) 165
Friends 53 (37) 21 (14.7) 29 (20.3) 27 (18.9) 13 (9.1) 143
Total amount 156 (33.8) 124 (26.8) 62 (13.4) 78 (16.9) 42 (9.1) 462
Number of times that help was given and percentages of total amount of help given to this
Source: Komter and Vollebergh (2002).

Matthew “ “. . . unto every one that hath shall be given” (Merton 1968).
The same process applies to gift exchange, as our research demonstrates.
Not being able to do good apparently has its own price.

Philanthropic Particularism

Another example of solidarity acting as a principle of exclusion can be
deduced from a secondary analysis of the same research data (Komter
and Vollebergh 2002). The focus of the analysis was on care as one of the
most clear-cut indications of solidary behavior toward other individuals.
In particular, we investigated the relative importance of familial solidarity
and solidarity toward friends. Therefore, we analyzed which categories of
respondents received the most care or help. We identi¬ed several kinds
of help or care: incidental help, for example, with moving to another
place or with odd jobs around the house; help related to daily activities
like shopping, gardening, or children™s transport; and emotional support,
such as offering sympathy or consolation. Table 6.6 shows that most help
is given to other family members, then to friends, and ¬nally to parents

Solidarity and Selectivity

and children. Note that parents are probably a numerical minority: they
consist of at most four people (one™s own parents and parents-in-law),
whereas the number of other family members and friends may be much
greater. Furthermore, Table 6.6 indicates that help and care given to
other family members consists of all kinds of help, with a somewhat
stronger emphasis on incidental help or care. The same applies to friends.
Psychological help is given mostly to family and friends. The percentage
given to parents is considerably smaller and appears insigni¬cant where
children are concerned: presumably, this kind of help is considered so
obvious that respondents do not care to mention it. The same probably
applies with giving help to one™s partner: this form of help is regarded
as so natural that it does not even enter the minds of respondents. For
this reason, help or care given to the partner has been omitted from our
analysis. This deletion colors our results to some extent; mentioning help
or care automatically entails some connotation of obligation: where help
is more natural and obvious, the sense of obligation disappears and will
no longer be perceived.
Nevertheless, it can be concluded that parents and other family mem-
bers combined receive more than twice as much help as friends do. An-
other ¬nding from our research is that people without children give
signi¬cantly more help and care than people with children, particularly
when help and care toward family and friends are concerned (Komter
and Vollebergh 2002).
Two conclusions can be drawn from the results. First, parents and other
family members combined are overwhelmingly favored over friends when
giving care or help is concerned. Second, those with children prove to be
less supportive toward their friends and wider family than those without
children. Both ¬ndings might be interpreted as manifestations of what
Salomon (1992) has called “philanthropic particularism,” an inherent
tendency of voluntary initiatives to favor those with whom one identi¬es
most. Our study demonstrates that solidarity in the form of offering care
or help has the same selective character: primary family and extended

Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

family taken together do receive more care and help than friends. Those
who are deprived of family relationships are clearly at a disadvantage with
respect to day-to-day solidarity in the form of care and help.
From our data it can be concluded that the amount of material and non-
material gift giving in the Netherlands is substantial and does not warrant
any serious worries concerning diminished solidarity or increased self-
ishness and individualism: 65% of the respondents reports having given
care or help over the past nine months, while 55% has been a recipient
of care or help (see Table 2.1). This is the positive side of gift giving. How-
ever, the practice of gift giving has a negative side as well. The gift econ-
omy appears to possess a rather harsh regularity, which seems to con¬rm
social inequality: those who need it most receive the least. Douglas and
Isherwood™s observation that “reciprocity in itself is a principle of exclu-
sion” (1979: 152) has found empirical substantiation in our research data.
People whose social circumstances are deteriorating, for instance, by be-
coming unemployed and dependent on state bene¬ts, or by becoming
elderly, often face diminishing life chances, shrinking social networks,
and increasing isolation. In turn, growing social isolation means less par-
ticipation in gift exchange and diminishing opportunities to develop the
feelings of “faithfulness and gratitude,” as Simmel called them, that are
essential in bringing about the wish to return a gift.
The “Matthew effect” causes a substantial imbalance in the distribution
of gifts among different social categories, con¬rming the already existing
inequality in social resources. The mechanism of “philanthropic partic-
ularism” implies that primarily one™s own family bene¬ts from giving
care or help. The mechanism may have an evolutionary origin compa-
rable with the one underlying altruistic behavior: this behavior proves
to be primarily oriented toward relatives and near family (Wilson 1975;
Dawkins 1976; de Waal 1996).
As Beck (1986) has argued in Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity,
the process of individualization leads to winners and losers. Some groups
pro¬t from the process by securing themselves a greater autonomy and

Solidarity and Selectivity

more options to participate in society. Other groups become separated
from traditional support networks and are incurring increasing risks
of losing their jobs and incomes. Solidarity as expressed in gift giving
appears to have the same two-sided character as individualization: some
social categories are clearly bene¬ting more from it than others. Due to
the mechanisms inherent to gift giving that have been described here,
solidarity can be considered a two-edged sword (Waldinger 1995).

Inherent Failures of Solidarity

In the Netherlands more and more money is spent on charity. This can
partly be explained by the rise in net incomes; however, in combination
with the fact that a growing number of Dutch people have become mem-
bers of ideological (religious and other) organizations, one might as well
conclude that there is an increase in civic virtues and solidarity in this
respect. Since 1980 the Dutch are active participants in voluntary work,
and there have been no signs of decline until now: about one-third of all
adults spend some of their time in volunteer work. As concerns informal
care, a similar picture arises: the supply of informal care has not changed
considerably between 1975 and 1990. Again about one-third of the Dutch
provide care to others inside or outside the home.
Although in the common conception of solidarity positive connota-
tions prevail, it is not necessarily a positive concept. Whereas the data
from our national surveys do not warrant too pessimistic a view on the
level of solidarity as expressed in informal care, our own research on gift
giving demonstrates some inherent failures of solidarity. Those people “
often the socially weak “ who participate less than others in circles of gift
exchange are less likely to receive help and care from others than do people
who form part of these networks: the “Matthew effect.” Moreover, infor-
mal care and help are characterized by the restrictions of “philanthropic
particularism,” a preference to care for family and relatives more than
for other people who might require care. Reciprocal solidarity acts as a

Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

principle of exclusion in these cases. These inherent failures of solidarity
are an important reason why the government can not rely too much on
informal care without risking social inequality and exclusion.

In this chapter it has been argued and empirically demonstrated that
solidarity may have negative outcomes and consequences in addition to
its positive aspects. In public and political debates on social cohesion
and solidarity it is often overlooked that solidarity is not merely bonding
but also selective and excluding. The ideological and normative uses of
the concept of solidarity frequently supersede its analytical use, causing
the more negative manifestations of solidarity to disappear from the
picture. In the theoretical model to be discussed in Chapter 9, however,
these variations of solidarity are included. An important question to be
explored in that chapter is under which conditions solidarity is selective:
does this mainly apply to the small-scale social units of family and friends,
or also to large-scale group solidarity? But ¬rst we examine the vicissitudes
of family solidarity in more detail. Is it really on the decline, as is feared
by many?


Family Solidarity

Given rising divorce rates, it comes as no surprise that people
are decreasingly happy with their marriages. . . . Given too, that
pleasure in family life is the most important contribution to
happiness and life satisfaction, here lies a major explanation of
America™s current and rising sorrow.
(Robert Lane 2000: 108)

The worst tyrants among human beings . . . are jealous hus-
bands . . . , resentful wives, [and] possessive parents . . . [in] a
scene of hatred.
(Peter Laslett 1971: 4)

In most Western countries children and the bonds between generations
are still an important source of support for older generations, but con-
cern for the continuity of this support is broadly felt. Over the past two
centuries drastic changes have occurred in the nature and extent of fam-
ily solidarity. Whereas in the absence of social security and institutions
of social welfare kin served as the most essential resource for economic
assistance and security, a gradual weakening of interdependence among
kin has occurred over time. In the past commitment to the survival and
economic well-being of the family took priority over individual needs.
Also anthropological studies suggest that “kinship dues” were tradition-
ally the main source of kinship support (Sahlins 1972). The instrumental

Family Solidarity

orientation toward family has gradually been replaced by a more indi-
vidualistic and affective orientation and a greater emphasis on individual
needs and personal happiness (Hareven 1995). This development has
raised a concern with the vitality of family bonds and intergenerational
solidarity. Demographic changes have signi¬cantly added to this concern
(Bengtson 2001). Never before have elderly people lived so long, and never
before has the younger generation been so small in number compared
with the older generations. Also the larger variation in family structure is
supposed to cause a decline in traditional family patterns and values. In-
ternational studies about cultural and other values show that the increase
of individualization is accompanied by a lower level of identi¬cation and
loyalty with the family (Inglehart 1977; Popenoe 1988).
In addition to demographic developments changes in the life course
may have an impact on family solidarity. Recent research conducted in
the Netherlands shows that the phase of childhood and adolescence has
become longer in that societal responsibility is postponed (Liefbroer and
Dykstra 2000). In adulthood the period in which one participates in paid
labor has become shorter. In the Netherlands the percentage of working
people aged between ¬fty-¬ve and sixty-four has decreased from 35% in
1975 to 28.7% in 1998 (Sociale en culturele verkenningen 1999). The phase of
old age has become prolonged because of the increased longevity. On the
one hand, an increasing number of old people will be in need of care and
support at a time when the availability of women in particular to provide
these has diminished. On the other hand, an increasing number of still
vigorous old people will be available to provide support to the younger
generation. Both of these developments may affect family solidarity.
Family solidarity is also in¬‚uenced by the wider social context of the
welfare state and its level of social security and caring arrangements.
Since their introduction Western welfare regimes incorporate an implicit
social contract between generations that is based on intergenerational as
well as intragenerational transfers of resources through the mediums of
taxation and social expenditure (Bengtson and Achenbaum 1993; Walker

Solidarity and Selectivity

1996; WRR 1999). Public pension provision and the provision of social
and health care are the core of this social contract. A similar but infor-
mal social contract specifying caring obligations and relationships exists
within the family. In both the welfare-state social contract and the im-
plied contract of generations within the family the idea of reciprocity is
quintessential. The welfare state has institutionalized the expectation of
reciprocity in its system of inter- and intragenerational transfers. Simi-
larly, Bengtson, Rosenthal, and Burton (1990) argue that the contract of
generations existing within the family “calls for the parents to invest a ma-
jor portion of their resources throughout their adult years in the rearing
of children; in old age, the care giving is expected to be reversed.” Walker
(1996) points to the many ways this microsocial contract between family
members interacts with the macrosocial one. The economic restructuring
of Western welfare states occurring since the 1970s may have profound
implications for generational relations within families, particularly when
coupled with the increase in life expectancy. Many Western welfare states
have faced cuts in social expenditure, thereby putting a higher burden
on families to provide informal care. Inversely, the gender-based caring
relationship within families is in transition, which may be consequential
for welfare-state social policy. The reduction of women™s availability as
caregivers is a new reality that has to be taken into account in social policy.
This chapter deals with family solidarity, conceived as solidarity within
the network of family and near relatives, the informal solidarity contract
existing between family members. Precisely because the family is regarded
as the breeding ground for Durkheim™s mechanical solidarity, it is inter-
esting to examine whether there are concrete indications that family soli-
darity is declining. First, the theme is positioned within the context of the
scienti¬c and societal debate about generations and their interrelation-
ships. Then some theoretical dimensions of intergenerational solidarity
are discussed, followed by an overview of empirical research results on
concrete intergenerational solidarity in the form of (beliefs about) caring
for the elderly by the younger generation. In the ¬nal section, a distinction

Family Solidarity

is made between two dimensions of intergenerational relations, the ¬rst
at the macrolevel of welfare state provisions related to family care, and
the second at the microlevel of informal care within the family itself. An
interesting question is how both levels interact with one another.

The Relationship between Generations

Relationships between generations have traditionally been a source of
great solidarity as well as ¬erce con¬‚icts. Throughout history members
of the younger generation have detested the older generation because
of their old-fashioned ideas and beliefs, their rigid attitudes, and their
inability to keep pace with the times. The aged, in turn, were faced with a
growing emotional distance from the younger generation. Mutual prej-
udice has always ¬‚ourished. Contemporary youths do not like reading
books anymore, are only interested in watching television or playing
computer games, do not feel like making any effort whatsoever, and are
materialistic and egocentric. And, in reverse, aged people have had the
better opportunities, impede the mobility of the young on the labor mar-
ket by keeping the better jobs, and reach such elevated ages that they
(will) cause an enormous rise of costs in the health care system. These
commonsense notions certainly do not offer a satisfying answer to the
question whether a serious “generation problem” exists today, as Karl
Mannheim termed it in 1928 and, if it does, what its manifestations are.
An important preliminary question is what is exactly considered a
generation. Does this concept merely indicate a macrosociological, de-
mographic category based on the year of one™s birth? Or is a generation
a historical concept, referring to a certain group of people of about the
same age, who de¬ne themselves as being the founders of new values or
the promoters of cultural, political, and social changes, like the Vietnam
generation or the baby boomers (Bengtson 1993)? Different views on this
matter exist in the scienti¬c literature. Becker (1992), for instance, con-
ceives of a generation as an age cohort occupying a particular position

Solidarity and Selectivity

in history and showing similarities at the individual level (life course,
values, behavior) as well as the structural level (magnitude, composition,
culture, and organization of the generation). When a cohort substitutes
for a former one, this substitution process is assumed to be accompanied
by a change in values, culture, and life opportunities (Inglehart 1977).
The cohort conception of generations has not only been criticized for be-

<< . .

. 14
( : 23)

. . >>