Can you teach your children to be altruistic? “Yes”, but not using inheritances

There are plenty of reasons for why parents support their adult children by making financial transfers to them. Scholars generally agree that these many motives can be classified in three different broad classes: altruism (they just love their kids); reciprocity (hey, they expect something back, for instance to get care support when they age); status transmission (they want you to keep up with the Joneses’ kids) [see here for a detailed discussion of these motivations:]

However, within these broad classes there is a special reason for why parents might be generous towards their adult children: because their own parents taught them to do that! But, how can that happen? How can you teach your children that when they will be old they should be generous with their own adult children – you grandchildren?

In a recent article I wrote with two other colleagues we have found that one very practical way to teach your children to be generous in supporting their adult children is helping them out in buying their home. But not all types of help are useful.

In our study we took into consideration the entire life-long housing career of respondents, we observe that support received to acquire a home along one’s life course has an important demonstration effect: those parents who have received their home as a gift or have received economic support for buying it are more prone to provide help to their adult children. In contrast those who have acquired their home by inheriting it when their parents died are not more likely to make financial transfers to their children. In other words: if you want to teach your children to be generous toward their adult children you should help them out in buying a home when you are still alive, whereas leaving a (huge) inheritance to them will not make it work.


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If you are (really) interested in this article here is the link to a few free eprint copies



The childless are not a homogeneous group

If one focuses on the current political or academic debate on childlessness (and childless people)  s/he might assume that the entire population can be easily divided into two mutually exclusive groups: the childless and parents. After reading a number of articles on the “consequences” (in fact, correlates) of childlessness, the reader will also easily assume that not having children is clearly associated with a number of (generally negative) socio and economic conditions – such as a worse health status, social isolation etc. What I want to argue here is that one basic fallacy of this type of reasoning is that it assumes that childless people and parens are homogenous groups. This is not correct.

Childless people (and parents) are an heterogeneous group. Childlessness should be seen as a life course process across a series of decision and bifurcation points. The social and economic correlates/consequences of being childless depend on the specific paths into childlessness, and they may also depend on the specific family and kinship constellations of each childless individual.

In a recent paper that I wrote together with Martin Kohli we argue that childlessness and parenthood are better conceptualized not as two alternative and mutually exclusive conditions, but as the two opposite poles of a continuum. Thus, for example, those parents who have lost contact with their children might be located somewhere in between those who have never had a (natural/adopted or fostered) child in their life and parents who have frequent contact with their adult children. The number of different conditions in between the two poles of the continuum can be significantly expanded while considering the numerous different sequences of conditions that characterize individuals’ life courses.

The distinction we make – between a dichotomous conceptualization of parenthood vs. childlessness and a continuum – is relevant not only at the theoretical level but also at the practical one. Thus, for instance, in our paper we show that those elderly people – usually considered parents – who have lost contact with all of their adult children or who reside at a very large distance from them, are as much likely to receive (and need) formal care services than those people who have never had children in their life.

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In case you are interested the full paper can be dowloaded here (free access):

Ageing and family solidarity in Europe: patterns and driving factors of intergenerational support

Albertini Marco, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, 2016

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, intergenerational relations remain a key aspect of the future development and sustainability of the European social model. In the present paper, patterns of intergenerational support and the main driving factors behind individuals’ transfer behavior are explored. In particular, the data form the Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe are utilized to shed light on the main factors behind the likelihood and intensity of social support, and financial help provided to and received from other family members by ageing and elderly Europeans.

Intergenerational transfers of time and money in European families: common patterns—different regimes?

Albertini Marco, Kohli Martin, Vogel Claudia – Journal of European Social Policy, 2007

Our results confirm, at the European level, the existence of a common transfer pattern. There is a net downward flow from the older to the younger generations, both by inter vivos financial transfers and by social support. Transfers from the elderly parents to their children are much more frequent and also usually much more intense than those in the opposite direction. Our results also demonstrate that country-specific transfer patterns follow the typology of welfare regimes. Transfers from parents to children are less frequent but more intense in the Southern European countries than in the Nordic ones, with the Continental European countries being somewhere in between the two.