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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 secondsIntergenerational solidarity refers to the degree of cohesion between different generations. In the family context, the concepts of intergenerational solidarity is most frequently used to shed light on the nature of the relationship between adult children and their parents. Intergenerational family cohesion has six dimensions. First, structural solidarity. This refers to factors such as geographical distance that constrain or enhance interaction between family members. It is easier to give and receive help, care, and support if family members live near each other. But new technologies can enable communication between geographically distant family members too. Second, associational solidarity. This refers to the frequency of social contact and shared activities between family members. Thirdly, affectual solidarity.

Skip to 1 minute and 6 secondsThis can manifest itself in feelings of emotional closeness, affirmation, and intimacy between family members. Fourthly, consensual solidarity. Family members have different levels of actual or perceived agreement in opinions, values, and lifestyles. Fifth, functional solidarity refers to exchanges of instrumental and financial assistance and support between family members, which are manifestations of functional solidarity. Examples of functional solidarity are gifts of money, but also very practical things such as buying groceries, preparing meals, allowing family members to move in with you, or looking after their care needs. Older family members can be both beneficiaries and sources of functional solidarity. For instance, some older adults look after their grandchildren and some receive visits from their children to help with household tasks. Sixth, normative solidarity.

Skip to 2 minutes and 13 secondsThis refers to the strength of obligation felt towards other family members. In some families, there is a strong belief in the need for and importance of family cohesion and assistance between family members. And in others, family members assumed to largely look after their own needs independently. Of course, most intergenerational relationships also have elements of conflict, which might manifest itself, for instance, as disagreement over whether family members should live close to each other. Overall, however, despite challenges, family relations continue to be characterised by solidarity rather than conflicts. There is evidence that recent sociostructural circumstances, in particular the great recession that started in 2008, have necessitated and fostered family solidarity.

Skip to 3 minutes and 8 secondsIn particular, solidarity by older adults towards their younger family members who have struggled with unemployment, cost of housing, and childcare. This upward solidarity has been particularly important in countries with weaker welfare states and extensive cutbacks in public spending. Intergenerational relations at the microsocial level within multigenerational families are marked by interdependence. This has had the effect of mitigating schisms between age groups over scarce government resources. Intergenerational family relationships have also been studied through the notion of ambivalence, the idea that both positive and negative sentiments can be experienced in the parent-adult child relationships. For instance, many people recognise that they get on each other's nerves, yet feel close.

Skip to 4 minutes and 5 secondsWhat matters is not so much the presence of positive and negative sentiments, but rather how any conflict or ambivalence are managed.

Intergenerational family solidarity

Relations between generations in a family can be complicated. How connected do you feel to those older and younger than you? The dimensions of ‘intergenerational solidarity’ below can help you consider how the bonds in your family work.

Intergenerational solidarity refers to the degree of closeness and support between different generations. The notion of solidarity helps us to understand how people of different generations relate to, help and depend on one another in their daily lives.

In the video, we look at the different dimensions of intergenerational family cohesion:

dimensions

  • Structural solidarity: This means how factors like geographical distance can constrain or enhance interaction between family members. It is easier to give and receive help, care and support if family members live near one another, but new technologies, such as Skype, can aid communication between family members who live far from one another.

  • Associational solidarity: This dimension refers to the frequency of social contact and shared activities between family members. Some adults visit their parents very frequently, others less often.

  • Affectual solidarity: Solidarity can manifest itself in feelings of emotional closeness, affirmation, and intimacy between family members, also known as affectual solidarity. Some ageing parents and their adult children declare that they are very close to each other; others feel more distant.

  • Consensual solidarity: Family members have different levels of actual or perceived agreement in opinions, values, and lifestyles. For instance, the family members might all vote for the same party or believe in a similar ideology. In other cases, parents and their children might have very different opinions on issues, for instance, same-sex marriage.

  • Functional solidarity: Exchanges of practical and financial assistance and support between family members are examples of functional solidarity. Examples of functional solidarity are gifts of money but also very practical things such as buying groceries, preparing meals, allowing family members to move in with you, or looking after their care needs. Older family members can be both beneficiaries and sources of functional solidarity. For instance, some look after their grandchildren; others receive visits from their children to help with household tasks.

  • Normative solidarity: Normative solidarity refers to the strength of obligation felt towards other family members. In some families, there is a strong belief in the need for and importance of family cohesion and assistance between family members; in others, family members consider that it is quite acceptable for them to feel and to be very independent of each other.

Select one of the dimensions above. Now:

  • Think of some examples of how older adults show this type of solidarity towards their adult children and grandchildren.
  • Also think of situations where this type of solidarity might be limited.
  • In the Comments section below, describe how important family solidarity is to you and how you maintain relationships across the generations.

Virpi Timonen is a Professor in Social Policy and Ageing at Trinity College Dublin.

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Strategies for Successful Ageing

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