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ing static but has an additional disadvantage, which has been termed the
“fallacy of cohort-centrism” (White Riley 1992, quoted in Bengtson and
Achenbaum 1993): the tendency to assume that all members of one cohort
will age in the same way. This assumption precludes the recognition of
big differences that may exist within the same cohort, as a consequence
not only of differing individual reactions to the aging process but also of
the structural in¬‚uences of, for instance, social class, gender, or ethnicity.
A totally different generation concept has been developed by the found-
ing father of the generation theory, Karl Mannheim (1950 [1928]), who
does not so much conceive of a generation as a birth cohort but rather as
a group of contemporaries who share the feeling of belonging to a certain
generation. This feeling arises as a consequence of shared experiences of
particular social and historical events that have been formative for the
course of their lives. A birth cohort, therefore, does not necessarily coin-
cide with a generation: rather than age determining a generation, it is the
shared conscience. A birth cohort may be at the roots of a generation, but a
generation in Mannheim™s sense is primarily characterized by a common
mutual identi¬cation, based on a shared fate that differs fundamentally
from that of other generations. This is a much more social-psychological
and dynamic view of generations than the statistical and static cohort
For this chapter a mixture of both generation concepts is relevant.
Not only age cohorts but also the experience of belonging to a certain
generation is important for our theme. One may have grandchildren but
at the same time feel “in the midst of life” and be active, for instance,
by having a job. A woman may be a grandparent but also be sportive,

Family Solidarity

socially active, and have a circle of friends. Although she belongs to the
cohort of the third generation, she feels and behaves as if she were young
and is, in that sense, comparable with the members of younger gener-
ations. The structure of generations has fundamentally changed during
the second half of the twentieth century. More generations have become
involved in families. Whereas in former times a family was composed of
at most two or three generations due to the shorter life expectancy, nowa-
days it is not exceptional that four generations are in good health and
are contributing somehow to family life. We do not know exactly what
the implications of these changes for family solidarity are, but the situ-
ation has certainly become different from the one that prevailed during
the largest part of the twentieth century when the nuclear family was the
main family unit. Everything revolved around father, mother, and the
children and, whether you liked it or not, you were dependent on them
for your physical and social survival. Even though the nuclear family is
still an important anchor and social unit for many people, its importance
seems to be diminishing in favor of multigenerational bonds (Bengtson
Traditionally, the exchange of money, goods, and services has been
an important aspect of familial solidarity, in particular as expressed in
solidarity between generations. For centuries families have played an im-
portant economic role in the lives of individual citizens. Until the era of
industrialization the family was the most important unit of production;
individual survival depended on economic cooperation within the family.
Today economic exchange between family members is no longer a vital
precondition for individual survival. Nevertheless, people™s well-being
still depends largely on the exchange of goods and services with other
persons. A substantial part of that exchange continues to occur within
the family, among and between generations. In the past two decades, the
family is believed to have lost its signi¬cance as “a haven in a heartless
world” (Lasch 1977). As a consequence of a variety of factors, includ-
ing women™s increased participation in the labor market, their greater

Solidarity and Selectivity

economic independence, the liberalization of norms and values, and the
increased divorce rate, the family may have lost its former cohesion and
original signi¬cance. Is there any empirical support for these beliefs?

Family Solidarity: Empirical Research

Dimensions of Family Solidarity

The classical sociologists have left their traces in the literature on inter-
generational solidarity. T¨ nnies™s distinction between Gemeinschaft and
Gesellschaft (1987) and Durkheim™s theory about mechanical and organic
solidarity (1964a [1893]) are based on two elements that have in¬‚uenced
theoretical ideas about intergenerational solidarity: on the one hand, the
internalized normative obligations toward the group (mechanical soli-
darity, Gemeinschaft) and, on the other, the functional interdependency
of and consensus among group members about the rules of exchange
(organic solidarity, Gesellschaft ; Roberts, Richards, and Bengtson 1991).
The ¬rst conceptualizations of family solidarity originated in social
psychology. In the 1950s social psychologists started to research group dy-
namics in the laboratory, especially the characteristics of internal group
cohesion. The contribution of Homans (1950), for instance, focused on
those elements of human interaction presumed to be determinants of
group solidarity. He distinguished between “interaction” or the degree
of mutual connectedness of the actions of group members (Durkheim™s
functional dependency), “extendedness” of group activities, degree of
mutual affection, and norms concerning group membership and activi-
ties. The greater the interaction, mutual affection, and shared norms and
commitment to the group, the more cohesion the group would show. An-
other social psychologist, Heider (1958), added the degree of resemblance
among group members to the factors listed by Homans. In addition to
having frequent contact, also shared interests and norms contribute to
group cohesion.

Family Solidarity

These contributions are re¬‚ected in the work of the contemporary
American family sociologist Bengtson. In a recent article (2001) he
summarizes the solidarity model developed by him and his colleagues
(Bengtson and Mangen 1988; Bengtson and Roberts 1991; Roberts
et al. 1991). The model consists of six dimensions of intergenerational
solidarity: affectual solidarity (how people feel about their relation-
ships), associational solidarity (type and frequency of contact), consen-
sual solidarity (agreement in opinions and values), functional solidarity
(assistance), normative solidarity (expectations regarding family obli-
gations, familistic values), and structural solidarity (opportunity struc-
ture for interaction, geographical proximity). Using longitudinal data,
Bengtson and his colleagues have been able to chart the course of in-
tergenerational solidarity over time. Between 1971 and 1997 they found
remarkably stable patterns of affectual solidarity in the United States: high
levels of emotional bonding across generations have remained intact over
the years, according to Bengtson.
Bengtson™s typology of solidarity dimensions has given rise to exten-
sive empirical research. One of the questions posed by researchers con-
cerns the relationship between the dimensions of solidarity. Despite the
original hopes of detecting one underlying construct of solidarity, only
associational, functional, and structural solidarity show substantial inter-
correlation, and these dimensions, in turn, prove unrelated to affectional
solidarity. In the absence of a theoretical model specifying the causal rela-
tionships between the concept of family solidarity and its indicators, each
dimension has been studied separately. In their overview of empirical re-
search Roberts et al. (1991) mention, among others, the following results.
Normative intergenerational solidarity has been found to be stronger
when parental income is lower. Affectional solidarity is related to age and
gender and is stronger among members of older generations and women
(mothers and daughters). Associational solidarity has also been found
to be higher among women, probably re¬‚ecting their “kinkeeping” role.
Among divorced parents, as well as among people living in an urban

Solidarity and Selectivity

setting and those with higher education, associational solidarity seems
to be lower. Probably because functional solidarity or the exchange of
help and care is relatively easy to study empirically, studies assessing the
conditions under which assistance ¬‚ows both up and down generational
lines in the family are abundant (Cheal 1983; Mangen et al. 1988; Roberts
et al. 1991). Functional solidarity appears to be positively correlated with
higher income and education and with marital status.
There are several problems connected to Bengtson™s typology. For in-
stance, some of the dimensions, in particular associational and functional
solidarity, seem to be partly overlapping; helping a family member neces-
sarily means having contact and seeing him or her. Second, no attempt is
made to develop a theoretical model in which the causal relationships be-
tween the dimensions and the putative construct of family solidarity are
speci¬ed. In Bengtson™s view family solidarity seems to be the sum of the
dimensions, which implies a certain level of internal consistency between
them. Empirical research has not con¬rmed this, though. Moreover, the
nature of the causal relationships between the dimensions themselves
is not clear. Geographical proximity (structural solidarity) is clearly a
constraining (or enabling) factor where associational and functional sol-
idarity are concerned and, in that sense, is at a different causal level. A
third problem is that none of the dimensions has been studied in any
depth, so that no progress is made to arrive at a better theoretical under-
standing of the complex and multifaceted concept of family solidarity.
A study done by the American sociologists Alice and Peter Rossi (1990),
however, has attempted to investigate these aspects of family solidarity in
greater detail.

The Nature of Family Ties

The Rossis made use of Bengtson™s dimensions of family solidarity in
a study of 323 parents and 287 adult children. Focusing their analysis
on associational, functional, affectional, and consensual solidarity they

Family Solidarity

found substantial correlations between contact frequency (associational
solidarity) and help exchange (functional solidarity). Also, a relationship
between value consensus (consensual solidarity) and affective closeness
(affectional solidarity) showed up. A lack of connection was found be-
tween contact frequency and value consensus. Apparently, some degree
of interaction is socially expected and occurs regardless of a consensus
about core values among parents and children. Neither was there a sub-
stantial relationship between help exchange and value consensus; help
exchange occurs independently of the subjective feelings of children and
parents toward each other.
The Rossis™ research demonstrates that only two sets of the dimen-
sions of family solidarity as distinguished by Bengtson show consistent
and substantial correlations: functional solidarity (help exchange) and
associational solidarity (contact frequency), and consensual (value con-
sensus) and affectional solidarity (affective closeness). That connections
are found between help exchange and contact frequency is somewhat
of a tautology, as was said earlier. Also the relationship between shared
values and mutual affection does not come as a surprise, because having
similar ideas on religious and political matters is an important (though
not necessarily the only or the most important) precondition to mutual
liking and emotional closeness.
The main motivational base for providing assistance to parents or adult
children seems to be internalized norms of obligation. That is probably
the reason why the Rossis devote two chapters of their book to this issue.
The structure of these norms appears to be systematically patterned:
not the type of the kin person but the degree of relatedness of ego to
the various kin types was what mattered most. Children and parents
take priority over all other kin; siblings are the next in the hierarchy of
felt obligations, followed by grandchildren and grandparents. Still less
obligation was felt to nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles.
As to the affectivity dimension the Rossis report evidence of the con-
tinuing effects of early family experiences on current relations between

Solidarity and Selectivity

parents and adult children. Similar characteristics were transmitted from
one generation to the next. For instance, the quality of the parents™ mar-
riage was echoed in the marital happiness of adult children. A more
global quality of family life “ family cohesion “ was also transmitted
cross-generationally: happy, cooperative, interesting families tended to
breed families with similar characteristics themselves. Gender remains a
very signi¬cant factor in family life. Women keep playing a central role,
not only in the organization of the household and in child rearing but
also in the emotional climate of the family. Value consensus had an im-
portant impact on the affective tone of parent-child relations. Dissensus
in core values (religion, politics, general outlook on life) depressed the
emotional closeness of parents and adult children.
As regards the next dimension, social interaction, the Rossis conclude
that their respondents had widespread access to both their own parents
and to their adult children. Apparently adult children did not move far
away from their parents in most cases. The access pro¬le is re¬‚ected in
the contact between generations: from a third to almost half of the adult
children saw a parent at least once a week; one in ¬ve adult daughters had
daily phone contact with her mother. Most respondents were satis¬ed
with this contact frequency and, if they were not, they overwhelmingly
preferred more rather than less contact (often because one feels one
“should” have more contact). Whereas distance represented the major
factor affecting the frequency of interaction between mothers and adult
children, the quality of the relationship with fathers was even more of
an in¬‚uence than sheer opportunity. Family size, in particular of the
parental generation (the number of children the parents had) but also
of the younger generation (the number of their own children), reduced
social interaction between individual members of different generations.
Accessibility of the generations (Bengtson™s “structural solidarity”) is,
of course, the fundament for both interaction and help exchange. Gen-
der differences were found, not only in social interaction but also in help

Family Solidarity

exchange. More women than men had regular contact with their parents,
and the help exchanged between the generations was most extensive in
the mother-daughter relationship. The quality of the emotional bond
between parent and child in the past had continuing direct effects on
the frequency of contact and the amount of help exchanged. The help
parents gave to children tended to be more instrumental (advice, job
leads, money), whereas the help children gave to parents was more per-
sonal, hands-on care giving. Income had a strong impact on help between
generations: the higher the income of parents, the more extensive was the
help they gave to adult children. The exchange of help varied according
to the stage of the life course. Much help was given to young adults; as
the young adults matured, this help diminished, whereas children kept
giving support to their parents. As parents grew older they received more
support, particularly from their daughters. Apparently there is a decline
in the reciprocity in the exchange of support between generations over
the course of life.

Intergenerational Solidarity: Values and Beliefs

Which beliefs exist on the obligations of the younger to the older gener-
ations when the latter are in need of care and help? The Euro-barometer
surveys on public beliefs about elderly people provide a good interna-
tional overview (Walker 1996). One question posed in these surveys con-
cerns the extent to which one agrees with the statement that working
people are obliged to contribute to a decent living standard for elderly
people by means of paying taxes or other ¬nancial contributions. Walker
(1996), who interprets the answers to these questions in terms of solidar-
ity, concludes that there is a remarkably high level of solidarity; a strong
agreement with the statement is found among 60.1% of the Danes, 45.9%
of the British, 45.7% of the Spanish, 42.4% of the Dutch, 41.2% of the
Portuguese, and 40.7% of the Irish. Somewhat lower percentages are

Solidarity and Selectivity

table 7.1. Beliefs about Solidarity of the Young with the Aged, 1997
(% agreeing)

18“44 45“64 65“79
If the costs of retirement pensions rise, older people
should pay more taxes. 17 20 20
If the costs of the health care system keep rising, older
people should pay their own contribution. 66 49 40
If insuf¬cient jobs are available, older and younger
people are equally entitled to have one. 81 77 72
If the number of older people requiring help increases,
particularly the young should provide more care. 59 56 67

Source: Dykstra (1998).

found in Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Germany, with the
lowest percentage of 25.9% found in France (Walker 1996).
In the Netherlands the Dutch Demographical Institute (NIDI) has
investigated beliefs about assistance for elderly people requiring care
(Dykstra 1998). A large majority, 93%, thinks that the government has the
prime responsibility when caring provisions for elderly people in need
of physical or ¬nancial assistance are concerned. Another 65% are of the
opinion that aged people should, in the ¬rst place, appeal to the govern-
ment when they need care and only afterward ask their children for help
if necessary. Table 7.1 presents an overview of beliefs about solidarity of
the young for the aged.
A minority of both the younger (17%) and the older age groups thinks
that in case of rising costs of the pension system, the elderly should start
paying more taxes. However, younger people do think that the elderly
should assume some ¬nancial responsibility for the rising costs of the
health care system. When asked for their opinion about being entitled
to a job in times of economic scarcity, more of the younger than of the
older age group think that both young and old are as much entitled. Also
a relatively large number of young people, 59%, are willing to assume
some responsibility for elderly people requiring care.

Family Solidarity

Caring for Family

What people think or believe does not always correspond to how they
actually behave. It is much easier to say that one feels solidarity toward
older people than it is to behave according to that feeling. What pic-
ture arises when we look at concrete care and support provided to older
people? How do the recipients of the care experience that support and
which motives are underlying the behavior of the caregivers?
Figures of the European Community Household Panel of 1994 show
that adult children, particularly women, provide a large share of the
informal care given to older generations (Dykstra 1997). About 10% of all
European adults between thirty-¬ve and sixty-four years of age provide
unpaid care to members of older generations on a daily basis, about 14%
of women versus 6% of men. In the Netherlands about 13% of all adult
women, in particular those between forty-¬ve and ¬fty-four, provide
informal care to aged people, an ample half of them spending more than
four hours daily.
Dykstra and de Jong-Gierveld (1997) have examined the conditions
under which parents receive support from their children, using a sample
of 1,122 Dutch men and women between ¬fty-¬ve and eighty-nine, who
required care. A distinction between informal and formal care was made,
and people with and without a partner as well as divorced or widowed
people were included in the sample. The results are shown in Table 7.2.
Aged people with a partner are in the ¬rst place receiving help from
their partners. With respect to intergenerational solidarity it is interesting
to observe that 15% to 20% of the aged people who still have a partner re-
ceive help from their children. Children apparently are the second source
of help but, for people who need help and do not have a partner, they
are the ¬rst source to rely on. This applies much more strongly to people
whose partner has died than to divorced people. Apparently, a divorce may
have long-term consequences for the relationship with children. It is far
less self-evident for children of divorced parents to provide informal care

Solidarity and Selectivity

table 7.2. Sources of Help for Men and Women Aged Fifty-¬ve and Older, Having
Children, and Requiring Daily Practical Help (%)

First Ever Ever
Marriage Widowed Divorced

With (marital) partner, receives informal care from
Partner 63 63 54 47 73
Other members of the household 5 5 3 3 12
Children living outside the home 25 25 23 0 15
Other family members 4 3 6 3 0
With (marital) partner, receives formal care 18 26 20 18 42
Without (marital) partner, receives informal care from
“a “a
Members of the household 8 7 0 3
“a “a
Children living outside the home 47 53 13 23
“a “a
Other family members 6 11 0 10
“a “a
Without (marital) partner, receives formal care 54 50 50 46

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