Strong bonds between young and old helping families to withstand recession

Research finds no sign of tension between older and younger generations over debt burden

Dr PJ White, of IT Carlow, and Mamo McDonald, honorary president of Age and Opportunity, at the launch of the “Changing Generations” study yesterday.

Dr PJ White, of IT Carlow, and Mamo McDonald, honorary president of Age and Opportunity, at the launch of the “Changing Generations” study yesterday.


Families are supporting each other through the economic doldrums by providing loans, childminding or other forms of assistance to each other, new research indicates.

Against a backdrop of recession, emigration and financial hardship, a new report finds little evidence of tension between young and old generations over who is bearing the brunt of the downturn.

Instead, the “Changing Generations” research project says family networks and strong bonds between young and old are keeping many people afloat during the recession. Any anger tends to be directed at politicians or “pampered” public sector workers, or those perceived not to be pulling their weight such as recipients of some welfare benefits.

Lone pa rent payments
Many participants were critical of what they saw as over-generous social welfare payments for lone parents, for example, though poverty rates are highest among such family units.

The findings are contained in a two-year collaborative research project undertaken by researchers at Trinity College Dublin and NUI Galway. It was based on interviews with 100 men and women in Ireland across the generations, as well as interviews with 20 leaders from the public, private and civil society sectors.

There has been growing concern lately that “inter-generational solidarity” is under strain, with many commentators claiming that younger people are paying for the sins of an older generation through thwarted ambition, emigration and lower pay.

The report, however, states that the idea of taking from one generation in the interest of another barely featured among those who participated in the research.

“Our research points to strong solidarity between generations in Ireland. This is an abiding strength of Irish society,” said Prof Virpi Timonen, director of Trinity College Dublin’s social policy and ageing research centre.

Family solidarity
“Solidarity between family generations is perhaps the most important reason why Ireland is managing to maintain a reasonable degree of social cohesion under massive economic pressure,” she said.

Strong views of solidarity between the generations are expressed by all age groups involved in the research.

The general view among younger interviewees is that older people’s welfare entitlements are deserved and should not be cut. Older people, who want improved age-related benefits, tended to call for improved supports for younger age groups.

Prof Thomas Scharf of NUI Galway’s Irish centre for social geronotology said the strong bonds between young and old provided a hopeful marker for the future. “These bonds are not only helping people to cope with the current recession,” he said. “They also provide a solid foundation for the future welfare State, which will increasingly depend on the give and take between the generations.”

The report’s authors said commentators and policymakers should think twice before making a case for actual or impending conflict between the generations.

The report demonstrates how family members are providing high levels of support to one another through periods of unemployment, emigration and financial difficulty.

Help and support flowing between generations tended to take the form of care, material goods or money, time and labour helping out with chores, as well as space in the form of housing. Many younger people, for example, have moved back in with their parents to save money.