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Welfare states do not crowd out the family: evidence for mixed responsibility from comparative analyses


This paper discusses the informal and formal provision of help and support to older people from a comparative welfare state perspective, with particular reference to the relationships between inter-generational family help and welfare state support. While the ‘substitution’ hypothesis states that the generous provision of welfare state services in support of older people ‘crowds out’ family help, the ‘encouragement’ hypothesis predicts a stimulation of family help, and the ‘mixed responsibility’ hypothesis predicts a combination of family and formal help and support. The paper reports findings from the Old Age and Autonomy: The Role of Service Systems and Inter-generational Family Solidarity (OASIS) research project. This created a unique age-stratified sample of 6,106 people aged 25–102 years from the urban populations of Norway, England, Germany, Spain and Israel. The analyses show that the total quantity of help received by older people is greater in welfare states with a strong infrastructure of formal services. Moreover, when measures of the social structure, support preferences and familial opportunity structures were controlled, no evidence of a substantial ‘crowding out’ of family help was found. The results support the hypothesis of ‘mixed responsibility’, and suggest that in societies with well-developed service infrastructures, help from families and welfare state services act accumulatively, but that in familistic welfare regimes, similar combinations do not occur.

Corresponding author
Deutsches Zentrum fuer Altersfragen, Manfred-von-Richthofen-Strasse 2, D-12101 Berlin, Germany. e-mail:
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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
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