Most social research on ageing in Asia has focused on the support provided by adult children to their parents, and thereby suggests that as a matter of course older people are in need of support. This paper offers a different perspective. Drawing on ethnographic and quantitative data from a village in East Java, it examines the extent of older people's dependence on others and highlights the material and practical contributions that they make to their families. It is shown that only a minority of older people are reliant on children or grandchildren for their daily survival. In the majority of cases, the net flow of inter-generational support is either downwards – from old to young – or balanced. Far from merely assisting with childcare and domestic tasks, older people are often the economic pillars of multi-generational families. Pension and agricultural incomes serve to secure the livelihoods of whole family networks, and the accumulated wealth of older parents is crucial for launching children into economic independence and underwriting their risks. Parental generosity does not generally elicit commensurate reciprocal support when it is needed, leaving many people vulnerable towards the end of their lives.
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