Skip to main content

The role of European welfare states in intergenerational money transfers: a micro-level perspective


This article uses a comprehensive theoretical framework to explain why parents send money to particular children, and examines whether intergenerational solidarity is shaped by spending on various welfare domains or provisions as a percentage of gross domestic product. The theoretical model at the level of parents and children distinguishes parental resources and children's needs as the factors most likely to influence intergenerational money transfers. Differences in state spending on various welfare domains are then used to hypothesise in which countries children with specific needs are most likely to receive a transfer. For parents we hypothesise in which countries parents with specific available resources are most likely to send a transfer. We use data from the first wave of the Survey of Health and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) to analyse the influence of welfare-state provisions on the likelihood of intergenerational transfers in ten European countries. The results indicate that, in line with our expectations, the likelihood of a transfer being made is the outcome of an intricate resolution of the resources (ability) of the parents and the needs of a child. Rather large differences between countries in money transfers were found. The results suggest that, at least with reference to cross-generational money transfers, no consistent differences by welfare state regime were found.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Niels Schenk, Sociology, Erasmus University, P.O. Box 1738, Rotterdam 3000 DR, The Netherlands. E-mail:
Hide All
Adukaite, J. 2009. Old welfare state theories and new welfare regimes in Eastern Europe: challenges and implications. Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 42, 1, 2339.
Albertini, M., Kohli, M. and Vogel, C. 2007. Intergenerational transfers of time and money in European families: common patterns, different regimes? Journal of European Social Policy, 17, 4, 319–34.
Altonji, J. G., Hayashi, F. and Kotlikoff, L. J. 1997. Parental altruism and inter vivos transfers: theory and evidence. Journal of Political Economy, 105, 6, 1121–66.
Attias-Donfut, C., Ogg, J. and Wolff, F. 2005. European patterns of intergenerational financial and time transfers. European Journal of Ageing, 2, 3, 161–73.
Becker, G. S. 1974. A theory of social interactions. Journal of Political Economy, 82, 6, 1063–93.
Berry, B. 2008. Financial transfers from living parents to adult children: who is helped and why? American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 67, 2, 207–39.
Börsch-Supan, A. and Jürges, H. 2005. The Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe: Methodology. Mannheim Research Institute for the Economics of Aging, Mannheim, Germany.
Cloïn, M. and Hermans, B. 2006. Onbetaalde arbeid en de combinatie van arbeid en zorg [Unpaid labour and the combination of work and care]. In Portegijs, W., Hermans, B. and Lalta, V. (eds), Emancipatiemonitor 2006 [Emancipation Monitor 2006]. Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau/Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, The Hague.
Cooney, T. M. and Uhlenberg, P. 1992. Support from parents over the life course: the adult child's perspective. Social Forces, 70, 5, 6384.
Cox, D. 1987. Motives for private income transfers. Journal of Political Economy, 95, 3, 508–46.
Cox, D. 2003. Private transfers within the family: mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. In Munnell, A. H. and Sundén, A. (eds), Death and Dollars: The Role of Gifts and Bequests in America. Brookings Institute Press, Washington DC.
De Jong Gierveld, J. and Fokkema, T. 1998. Geographical differences in support networks of older adults. Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, 89, 3, 328–36.
Dwyer, J. and Coward, R. T. 1991. A multivariate comparison of the involvement of adult sons versus daughters in the care of impaired parents. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 46, 5, S259–69.
Eggebeen, D. and Hogan, D. 1990. Giving between generations in American families. Human Nature, 1, 3, 211–32.
Esping-Andersen, G. 1990. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Polity, Cambridge.
Esping-Andersen, G. 1999. Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies. Oxford University Press, New York.
Etzoni, A. 1993. The Spirit of Community: Rights, Responsibilities, and the Communitarian Agenda. Crown, New York.
Eurostat 2008. Social Benefits per Head of Population by Function. Eurostat, Luxembourg.
Grundy, E. and Henretta, J. C. 2006. Between elderly parents and adult children: a new look at the intergenerational care provided by the family. Ageing & Society, 26, 5, 707–22.
Hamilton, W. D. 1964. The genetical evolution of social behaviour (Part I). Journal of Theoretical Biology, 7, 1, 116.
Harper, S. 2006. Mature societies: planning for our future selves. Daedalus, 135, 1, 2031.
Haskey, J. 1996. The proportion of married couples who divorce: past patterns and current prospects. Population Trends, 83, 2536.
Kalmijn, M. 2007. Gender differences in the effects of divorce, widowhood and remarriage on intergenerational support: does marriage protect fathers? Social Forces, 85, 3, 1079–105.
Kalmijn, M. and Saraceno, C. 2008. A comparative perspective on intergenerational support. European Societies, 10, 3, 479508.
Kasza, G. J. 2002. The illusion of welfare. Journal of Social Policy, 31, 2, 271–87.
Kohli, M. 1999. Private and public transfers between generations: linking the family and the state. European Societies, 1, 1, 81104.
Kohli, M. and Albertini, M. 2009. Childlessness and inter-generational transfers: what is at stake? Ageing & Society, 29, 8, 1173–83.
Künemund, H. 2008. Intergenerational relations within the family and the state. In Saraceno, C. (ed.), Families, Ageing and Social Policy. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK, 105–22.
Künemund, H. and Rein, M. 1999. There is more to receiving than needing: theoretical arguments and empirical explorations of crowding in and crowding out. Ageing & Society, 19, 1, 93122.
Litwak, E. and Kulis, S. 1987. Technology, proximity, and measures of kin support. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 49, 3, 649–61.
McGarry, K. 1999. Inter vivos transfers and intended bequests. Journal of Public Economics, 73, 3, 321–51.
Motel-Klingebiel, A., Tesch-Römer, C. and Von Kondratowitz, H. 2005. Welfare states do not crowd out the family: evidence for mixed responsibility from comparative analyses. Ageing & Society, 25, 6, 863–82.
Reher, D. S. 1998. Family ties in Western Europe: persistent contrasts. Population and Development Review, 24, 2, 203–34.
Reil-Held, A. 2006. Crowding out or crowding in? Public and private transfers in Germany. European Journal of Population/Revue Européenne De Démographie, 22, 3, 263–80.
Rosenthal, C. J. 1985. Kinkeeping in the familial division of labor. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 47, 4, 965–74.
Rosenzweig, M. R. and Wolpin, K. I. 1993. Intergenerational support and the life-cycle incomes of young men and their parents: human capital investments, coresidence, and intergenerational financial transfers. Journal of Labor Economics, 11, 1, 84112.
Rosenzweig, M. R. and Wolpin, K. I. 1994. Parental and public transfers to young women and their children. American Economic Review, 84, 5, 1195–212.
Saraceno, C. (ed.)2008. Families, Ageing and Social Policy: Intergenerational Solidarity in European Welfare States. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK.
Saraceno, C., and Keck, W. 2008. The Institutional Framework of Intergenerational Family Obligations in Europe: A Conceptual and Methodological Overview. Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung, Berlin.
Schoeni, R. F. 1997. Private interhousehold transfers of money and time: new empirical evidence. Review of Income and Wealth, 43, 4, 423–48.
Tesch-Römer, C. and von Kondratowitz, H. 2006. Comparative ageing research: a flourishing field in need of theoretical cultivation. European Journal of Ageing, 3, 3, 155–67.
Tomassini, C., Glaser, K., Wolf, D. A., Broese van Groenou, M. I. and Grundy, E. 2004. Living arrangements among older people: an overview of trends in Europe and the USA. Population Trends, 115, 2434.
Uhlenberg, P. 1993. Demographic change and kin relationships in later life. In Maddox, G. L. and Lawton, M. P. (eds), Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatics. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 219–38.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 1997. International Standard Classification of Education 1997. Institute of Statistics, UNESCO, Montreal.
van Gaalen, R., Dykstra, P. and Flap, H. 2008. Intergenerational contact beyond the dyad: the role of the sibling network. European Journal of Ageing, 5, 1, 1929.
Walker, A. 1996. The New Generational Contract: Intergenerational Relations, Old Age, and Welfare. University College London Press, London.
Whyte, L. 1994. Growing up with single parents and stepparents: long-term effects on family solidarity. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 56, 4, 935–48.
Wolfe, A. 1989. Whose Keeper? Social Science and Moral Obligations. University of California Press, Berkeley, California.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed