European families have changed considerably in recent decades, in both structural and cultural terms, due to major demographic, socioeconomic and cultural developments (e.g. ageing of Europe’s populations, postponement of union formation and parenthood, decline in the birth rate, increases in union dissolution, women’s emancipation, development of welfare systems, individualisation and secularisation). Families today consist of more
generations, but each successive generation consists of fewer people. The composition of the families has become more complex in the sense that an increasing number of people are faced with divorce, re-partnering and step ties. The expansion of welfare state provisions has decreased the practical and economic need for family support, while women’s higher labour force participation has decreased the practical ability to take care of dependents. Parent-child relations are now characterised by a more individualistic and
affective orientation and a greater emphasis on individual needs and personal happiness than they were in the past.
There is a lively debate going on among scientists and policy makers about the
implications of these changes for family solidarity and solidarity between parents and children in particular. Some believe in ‘lost’ solidarity while others believe that solidarity has not so much weakened, but has changed in character. In order to contribute to this debate, we examined the current strength, nature and direction of the solidarity between parents and their adult children, its variation among European countries and its determinants.Unlike previous studies, multiple aspects of solidarity were examined, both
separately and simultaneously, in a large number of European countries. Four
domains of intergenerational solidarity were examined: ‘structural solidarity’,
measured by geographical proximity, ‘associational solidarity’, measured by the
frequency of contact, ‘normative solidarity’, measured by the perceived family
care obligations, and ‘functional solidarity’, measured by mutual exchange of
financial support and help in kind.
Our findings do not indicate at all that the structural and cultural changes in European families have resulted in a decline in actual intergenerational solidarity: although coresidence is not very common in our day, especially not in northern and central Europe, parent-child ties appear to be quite strong. The majority of Europeans aged 50 and over live in close proximity and have frequent contact with at least one of the children. Moreover, strong sense of family duty still exists and a substantial amount of support is being exchanged between parents and their non-coresident children.