Solidarity across generations in New Zealand: factors influencing parental support for children within a three-generational context
Interest in ascertaining the nature and extent of intergenerational exchanges between those in mid-life, and members of their kinship network has arisen because demographic, social and policy changes have brought into question the ability of individuals in this stage of the family and individual life course to respond to what may be the conflicting support needs of older and younger generations. Trends of delayed childbearing for example, suggest that at mid-life, individuals are increasingly likely to be involved in parenting roles. At the same time, as they contemplate their own pre-retirement needs, they may also be more involved with the caring needs of ageing parents who are living longer. It has thus been argued that the mid-life period carries the potential for complex, and perhaps competing intergenerational requirements for support and care, compromising the ability of those in this life stage to show their solidarity towards both younger and older kin. Research on intergenerational relations has focused mainly on the adult child and elderly parent dyad in the context of population ageing and much less work has been done to understand the nature of intergenerational exchanges in the context of more complex structures extending beyond dyads to include triads of three co-surviving generations. This paper addresses this lacuna by establishing whether, in the context of a kinship structure of three co-surviving generations, the likelihood of a child receiving assistance from their mid-life parent is influenced by the characteristics of an ascending generation, the mid-life respondent’s own ageing parent. Empirical investigation draws on the theoretical framework of micro-level inter-generational solidarity developed by Bengtson and others, in which exchanges of assistance are conceptualised as bonds of functional solidarity. Underlying the analysis is therefore an investigation of the premise that mid-life individuals are at the centre of competing inter-generational requirements. Data are from the 1997 New Zealand survey ‘Transactions in the Mid-Life Family’, a sample of 750 males and females aged between 40 and 54. Analysis is based on a sub-population of 310 respondents with at least one surviving ageing parent or in-law and one child aged over 15, none of whom live together. Multivariate logistic regression techniques are used and the dependent variable of functional solidarity is represented as a three-category variable of emotional, in-kind and financial support. Findings indicate that when an ageing parent’s bond with the mid-life respondent is characterised by emotional support, this also enhances the child’s chances of benefiting from all dimensions of parental support. Likewise, children are more likely to benefit from in-kind help if their own grandparents also receive it. Results do not clearly suggest that a greater number of elderly members in a kin network necessarily represent a drain on the mid-life respondent’s resources, at least not those of an emotional nature. Life-course specific support requirements of younger and older generations may mean that mid-life individuals in fact respond to complementary rather than competing needs.
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