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Too few cases.
Source: Dykstra and de Jong-Gierveld (1997).

and help than it is for children whose parents are still married. Divorced
fathers, of all categories, receive the least support from their children. On
the other hand, children from a possible second marriage have a more
important share in caring for their once divorced fathers than is the case
for their divorced mothers. As to the relationship between informal and
formal care, Dykstra and de Jong-Gierveld (1997) conclude that those
who receive little informal care do not seem to appeal for formal care
more frequently. On the contrary, the most frequent users of informal
resources are at the same time using formal resources to the largest extent.
Several investigations suggest a relationship between social class and
intergenerational solidarity. Kulis (1992), for instance, points to certain
common ideas with respect to solidarity and social class: it is often thought
that lower-class people offer each other mainly practical and instrumen-
tal help, whereas the middle and higher social strata would more often

Family Solidarity

exchange emotional and ¬nancial support. In a large-scale survey Kulis
distinguished between instrumental, economic, and social help. He found
that, contrary to existing beliefs, middle-class parents offered more in-
strumental help to their children than lower-class parents did; the same
applied to ¬nancial and social-emotional help. From a secondary analysis
of the data of the Dutch research into gift giving already mentioned in
earlier chapters, a class-bound difference in gift-giving patterns appeared
to exist between a “friends culture” and a “family culture.” More highly
educated people appeared to give more to friends, whereas the lesser-
educated gave mainly to family. This was the case for all kinds of gifts,
material as well as nonmaterial, including care and help (Komter and
Vollebergh 1997).
Finally, it is important to pay some attention to family solidarity in the
context of the immigration society that many Western European coun-
tries have become over the past decades. In their research among legal and
illegal immigrants in the Netherlands, Engbersen and Burgers demon-
strate substantial patterns of mutual care and help (Komter, Burgers, and
Engbersen 2000). A special form of family solidarity among members
of minority groups is the continuous ¬nancial support in the form of
regular remittances provided to family members who have remained in
their native country. In times that are increasingly characterized by im-
migrants™ transnational activities and border-crossing ties and loyalties
(Snel and Engbersen 2002), it can be expected that transnational forms
of family solidarity will increase rather than diminish.

The Troubled Side of Family Solidarity

An interesting ¬nding is that a high level of intergenerational solidarity
does not necessarily coincide with the psychological well-being of aged
family members (Mutran and Reitzes 1984) and in some cases may even
threaten it (Roberts, Richards, and Bengtson 1991). Under certain condi-
tions, such as strong ¬nancial pressures, high family solidarity generates

Solidarity and Selectivity

mental tension caused by obligations that are too much and too heavy
and by too strong an appeal to one™s time and resources. In a small-
scale qualitative investigation among older men and women in London,
Gail Wilson (1993) found also that intergenerational solidarity is not
self-evidently experienced as something positive. Often there is a lack of
reciprocity (old age restricts the possibility to return help and care), caus-
ing feelings of dependency. Receiving and accepting help and care is not
without problems in this case. Moreover, the care may be experienced as
a form of control “ is the house kept clean enough, does one eat regular
meals? Many young people experience the care they provide to their aged
parents as a burden. Several aged respondents from Wilson™s research
remarked that when the young offer a lot of help, “love declines and duty
takes over” (1993: 639). Also Janet Finch argues in her book Family Obli-
gations and Social Change (1989) that women™s motives to care for their
aged family members may be rooted in a form of “prescribed altruism,” a
strongly felt inner norm of being obliged to demonstrate solidarity with
aged family members. These inner obligations to intergenerational soli-
darity are, of course, strongly connected to the gendered division of labor
and care that still survives in our society.
Various studies on aging and the family discuss the possible nega-
tive consequences of intergenerational solidarity, the ways the caregiver™s
psychological well-being may be threatened (Ryff and Seltzer 1995, 1996),
or the impact stressful events may have on the quality of parent-child
relations (Suitor et al. 1995). Family support can become troubled by
con¬‚ictive aspects of relationships (House, Umberson, and Landis 1988;
Bengtson 2001). People may control their relatives or express all kinds of
relational demands, thereby burdening the relationship. As Boszormenyi-
Nagy and Spark have argued convincingly (1973), feelings of loyalty, sol-
idarity, and mutual trust are dependent upon the silent bookkeeping of
giving and receiving among family members. This silent bookkeeping
may be transmitted from one generation to the next. Parents try to make
up for shortcomings in their own upbringing by giving their children

Family Solidarity

what they missed themselves; children again compensate for the imper-
fections they experienced. In reality family ties are often a mixture of
(longings for) love and disappointment or anger, feelings of dependency,
and a desire for autonomy “ in short, they are essentially ambivalent
(Luescher and Pillemer 1998). Troubled or ambivalent feelings underly-
ing family ties may be an important cause of a later lack of solidarity, or
of a solidarity characterized by insincerity, insecurity, and stress.
In the Netherlands Ali de Regt (1993) has signaled the sense of obli-
gation that many young people feel toward their parents. Often these
feelings are aroused when paying their parents a visit, or helping them
in case of illness. As a consequence of their increased ¬nancial resources
parents nowadays are caring for their children during a much longer pe-
riod than was the case in the past when children went out to work at
a much younger age. Formerly existing expectations of children caring
for the physical and material well-being of their parents have become
less compelling, but the new ¬nancial dependency of children may con-
tribute to their feeling obliged toward their parents. Although affection
will in many cases be involved in the relationship between parents and
their young adult children, these feelings are not self-evident (they per-
haps never were) and will often be mixed up with forms of “prescribed
There are some empirical indications of a gender difference in caring
motives: daughters would be more often driven by altruistic motives
whereas among sons feelings of obligation, expectations concerning in-
heritance, and the frequency of existing contacts would prevail (Dykstra
and de Jong-Gierveld 1997). More generally, feelings and motives prove
to be strongly related to the category to whom help and care are provided:
feelings of moral obligation are predominant when help is given to family
but help to friends is more often accompanied by feelings of affection,
regardless of gender (Komter and Vollebergh 1997).
The evidence suggests that the existing concern about the level of con-
temporary family solidarity is not justi¬ed: neither in the United States

Solidarity and Selectivity

nor in certain European countries has a signi¬cant decline in the level of
help and care provided by adult children to their parents been observed,
and people™s beliefs reveal a clear awareness of their own obligations to-
ward the older generation. Small-scale, in-depth studies such as Wilson™s
are still scarce, but it is exactly this type of study that could shed light
on the more problematic aspects of family solidarity (Johnson 2000). In
distinguishing the motives for caring for family members, there seems to
be a subtle balance between reciprocity, affection, and obligation.

Macro- and Microsolidarity

Most welfare states are based on a silent contract between generations,
with the younger generation contributing ¬nancially to the care needed
by the elderly (Walker 1996). Through the payment of taxes and pre-
miums and by means of social policy, the government provides for the
material and physical support required by aged people when they are not
able anymore to earn their own living or to care for themselves properly.
Western and Northern European countries have a relatively generous
system of pensions and additional forms of (partly) subsidized govern-
mental support for the elderly compared with the United States “ home
care, district nursing, adaptations to the homes of the disabled, meals
delivered at home, to mention a few examples. In view of this situation
it is not surprising that many aged people living in Western and North-
ern Europe prefer the institutional, state-provided care over an enduring
dependency on their own children (de Jong-Gierveld and van Solinge
The micro- and macrosocial dimensions of intergenerational relations
are not completely separate phenomena; in fact, they are interdepen-
dent in several ways. First, characteristics of welfare-state social policy
for aged people “ in particular, the liberality and accessibility of caring
arrangements “ have an impact on care provision within families. For
instance, cuts in governmental elderly care may cause a stronger appeal

Family Solidarity

to informal caregivers, implying a higher workload for them. Similarly,
changes in the level of the pensions may have an impact on the ¬nan-
cial and physical dependency of aged people upon their family members.
These developments are often unintended side effects of governmental
policy. A second in¬‚uence of the state upon microsocial, intrafamilial
caring arrangements is the social construction and embodiment of tra-
ditional family ideals in which women are still playing an important role
as informal caregivers. In many Western countries governments are hes-
itant to intervene in too direct a way into the caring potential of families
because they fear that an overly generous governmental supply of care
will eliminate spontaneous care provided within families (Walker 1996).
A paradoxical effect becomes visible here: whereas the traditional family
ideal is declining rapidly, the principle of governmental nonintervention
acts as a reinforcement of traditional family relationships.
But the in¬‚uence also goes the other way around: microsocial arrange-
ments are re¬‚ected in macrosocial policy, or in the use that is made
of macrosocial arrangements (Esping-Andersen 1999). The nature and
quality of the relationship between parents and their adult children may
have an impact on the willingness of the children to provide care to their
parents and, therefore, on the extent of the appeal that is done to for-
mal caring arrangements. Also the extent to which adult children and
their parents have access to formal, state-based arrangements and facili-
ties will in¬‚uence the balance between formal and informal care within
a particular family. Financial resources as well as knowledge of formal
opportunities to obtain the necessary care and support are some obvious
determinants of the actual use that is made of public bene¬ts.
What, then, is the nature of the relationship between the macro- and
the microsocial contract between generations? The idea that a decrease of
caring provisions by the welfare state will lead to an increase of informal
care has been propagated by politicians at a time when European welfare
states are being economically restructured: family care as a substitute for
state-based care. The substitution thesis may also work the other way

Solidarity and Selectivity

around and is often expressed as a fear: the more the state cares for its
citizens, the fewer citizens will care for each other. An alternative way
to understand the relationship between the macro- and the microsocial
dimensions of intergenerational relations is the complementarity thesis,
which holds that higher levels of formal care go together with higher
levels of informal care.
Empirical research done so far offers a varied picture: in some welfare
states the substitution thesis is con¬rmed, whereas in others the comple-
mentarity thesis seems to hold (Knijn and Komter 2003). A straightfor-
ward answer to the question of which thesis is the most valid in general
is not to be expected. The reason is that the nature of the relationship
between the macro- and microsocial contract seems to depend on the
liberality of the particular welfare state and of the speci¬c domain that is
studied (childcare, informal care, intergenerational transfers, etc.).
In the Netherlands several empirical studies corroborate the com-
plementarity thesis (Komter et al. 2000). For instance, the ¬ndings of
the previously mentioned study by Dykstra and de Jong-Gierveld (1997)
demonstrate that the most frequent users of informal resources are also
using formal resources to the largest extent. The main focus of the recent
book by Arber and Attias-Donfut (2000) is the exchange of material and
nonmaterial support between adult generations within a framework of
the interaction between the public and private domains. They report a
German study by K¨ nemund and Rein (1999) who used data from a large
comparative survey of older people in four Western countries and Japan.
The study shows that “the most important forms of solidarity with re-
gard to older people take place in those countries where social policies
are generous to the welfare of older people” (Arber and Attias-Donfut
2000: 13). These ¬ndings con¬rm the notion that public aid reinforces
private aid rather than substituting for it. Other research results reported
by Attias-Donfut and Arber also show that the rise in public caring provi-
sions during the past decades has not resulted in any reduction of informal
care within families. From their own study on three-generational families

Family Solidarity

in France, based on a representative sample of multigenerational families,
the same picture arises. The authors conclude: “The complementarity of
public and private forms of support has been shown for different cat-
egories of transfers. Whether these transfers are for ¬nancial help for
young adults or care given to the eldest-generation members, the results
are the same. In all cases, public bene¬ts increase the recipient™s chances
of an additional and complementary form of support from members of
their family lineage” (Arber and Attias-Donfut 2000: 65). In short, public
transfers reshape and sustain family solidarity (Kohli 1999).

Family Solidarity: Solid but Ambivalent

Beliefs about extrafamilial, state-based intergenerational solidarity gen-
erally show a high level of solidarity. In the Netherlands as well as in many
other European countries, there is a high consensus about the desirability
of working people™s ¬nancial contribution, through taxes or otherwise,
to a decent standard of living for aged people. The Dutch grant a very
important role to the government when it comes to provisions for elderly
people requiring care or help. The majority of the Dutch think that the
government is primarily responsible for elderly care and that children™s
role is only secondary. In daily reality, however, children still provide in-
formal care to older family members to a substantial extent. The Dutch
level of informal care provided by adult children, particularly women,
to older generations is no exception to the levels found in other Euro-
pean countries. Despite fears to the contrary, the state of actual family
solidarity in the Western world is still very solid.
Although family care is still provided on a large scale, the motives
underlying the care offered to aged (in-law) parents are based on inner
obligation “ a kind of “prescribed altruism” “ rather than on feelings of
affectivity and identi¬cation. Recipients may experience the care offered
to them as problematic. For instance, the parents™ psychological well-
being may not be served best when their own children are the caregivers.

Solidarity and Selectivity

The care and help may be felt as a form of control, and the diminished
reciprocity when the recipient is older may cause feelings of dependency.
Inversely, caregivers frequently experience the care as a heavy burden in
terms of the time and the resources they spend on it.
Whereas the concept of family solidarity seems to direct our attention
automatically to positive feelings of connectedness and altruistic acts of
helping, we should bear in mind that the nature of family ties is funda-
mentally different from that of other social ties in that they are given,
not chosen. Family solidarity cannot be isolated from the more negative
aspects of care provided to family and from the deeply ambivalent nature
of family ties in general. On the one hand, the bonds between family
members are still solid in terms of the amounts of care and help that
continue to be exchanged; on the other hand, family ties may be troubled
or con¬‚ictive and be experienced as a burden.


Contemporary Solidarity

Changing Solidarity

In some areas of our public life a shared sense of civility seems
to have been delegitimated as a binding norm we can reliably
invoke; that is, not merely that people behave uncivilly, but that
the charge “That was uncivil” carries little or no weight. So I
think there is a decline in civility and that this decline matters.
(Lawrence Cahoone 2000b: 145)

Contemporary solidarity is different from what it has been in earlier
times. Broad societal changes have had an impact on the forms and man-
ifestations of solidarity: the individualization process, the decline of reli-
giosity in Western societies, the economic reforms that have taken place
in many welfare states, changing patterns in family life, changing gender
roles, the development of the information and communication technol-
ogy, and, last but not least, the migration processes occurring throughout
the world. As a consequence of immigration new religious and political
identities present themselves to the inhabitants of the Western world,
giving rise to new questions and concerns about solidarity. These soci-
etal changes do not necessarily cause a decline in solidarity, as is often
assumed. In certain domains solidarity may increase; in others it may
merely adopt a new shape. In this chapter, I brie¬‚y examine some of
the main dimensions that may be involved in the transformation in
solidarity: individualization, diversi¬cation, and globalization. Mainly

Contemporary Solidarity

cultural critics have re¬‚ected on these societal transformations, but their
conclusions only incidentally extend to the consequences for social ties
and solidarity. This is understandable because it is almost impossible
to connect broad societal changes causally to changes in solidarity. The
societal changes are too complex and solidarity is too multifarious to
allow clear causal statements. In the second part of this chapter I address
some changes in contemporary solidarity and, where possible, support
these with empirical data.
A ¬rst and overriding societal change is the individualization process.
This development has its starting point in the nineteenth century (al-
though its roots go back to a more distant past) and has been re¬‚ected
on by classical sociologists like Durkheim and Simmel. In their view one
of the consequences of individualization is that solidarity would become
more abstract. With the modernization of society people would come to
participate in an ever larger number of partly overlapping social circles.
This would enlarge their individual possibilities to choose; loosen the
former tightly knit ties of family, neighborhood, and church; and weaken
the formerly existing solidarity patterns.
A second and related development is diversi¬cation: of identities, pref-
erences, convictions, and commitments. It is assumed that the former
continuity and stability of human identity are disappearing, and that the
sharing of beliefs, roots, or traditions with fellow human beings is be-
coming less self-evident. Although modern individuals are more capable
than ever to assert their own selves, they are at the same time experiencing
a growing insecurity about what is going on in society, socially, culturally,
and materially. The presence of an increasing number of “strangers” in
modern Western societies adds substantially to this uncertainty. Hospi-
tality toward strangers, once a moral obligation and a daily practice all
over the world, has lost its former meaning as an expression of solidarity.
The third change concerns the globalization process, the widening of
political, economic, technological, social, and cultural borders allowing
for worldwide interconnections between organizations and people that

Changing Solidarity

create new possibilities and exigencies for solidarity. One manifestation
of this development is the new communication technology, in particular
the Internet, which creates new networks between millions of people.

Changing Society, Changing Individuals

Individualization and Social Ties

The individualization process has emancipated humans from the web
of mutual dependencies existing within the traditional community. The
individual has been freed from the ascribed, inherited, and inborn de-
termination of his or her social standing, which is now ruled by self-
determination. Choice and change of identities have replaced the former
determination. Growing autonomy and freedom have resulted from the
individualization process, but there is another aspect as well. In the words

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