Intergenerational exchange of instrumental support

John Ermisch, University of Essex
Tak Wing Chan, University of Oxford

We use data from the British Household Panel Survey to explore the pattern and dynamics of the exchange of instrumental support between adult children and their non-coresident parents. Viewed in the cross-section, the level of actual instances of intergenerational exchange in contemporary Britain is rather low. Viewed longitudinally, we report an asymmetric pattern in the ebb and flow of exchange, with stopping probabilities being multiples higher than starting probabilities. Furthermore, when the finance or health of adult children worsens, parental help is often not forthcoming, but when their finance and health improves, parental help is likely to be scaled back. Nonetheless, there is evidence that parents and adult children are supportive of each other at critical moments of life transitions, such as divorce, the birth of a child, or widowhood. Together, these results paint a nuanced picture of the significance of the extended family in contemporary Britain, and give qualified support to the latent kin matrix hypothesis.

Presented in Session 81: Intergenerational support at older ages