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Everyday engagement: Intergenerational transfers

Everyday Engagement: Intergenerational Transfers
A man and a young boy in a garden watering plants and pulling carrots out of the ground.
© Trinity College Dublin

When we think about engagement activities, we often forget about everyday transfers which take place between grandparents, parents and children. However, this form of engagement should not be overlooked due to its potential to reduce loneliness, combat social isolation, mitigate stress and ensure financial stability. Choice is key to these intergenerational transfers.

In Week 1, we looked at generational observation, the idea that we try to make sense of the behaviours and attitudes of other generations. Linked to this is the idea of intergenerational transfers, and how families remain the central organising units for economic, emotional and care support of individuals.

Generally, transfers between family generations can be classified into three main types: space, time and money.


In many countries, family support acts as a social protection mechanism which provides informal insurance for social risks, such as the inability to earn an income and greater support needs due to unemployment or old age.

Families continue to be the most significant source of care for older people in almost every country in the world.

These informal family supports may become increasingly important as policymakers in most OECD countries express reservations about being able to meet the increased demand for formal (State) supports.


Older family members are not only recipients of family support but also an increasingly important source of support for their families due to major social and economic shifts including increased incidence of marital breakdown, women’s labour market participation and single parenthood.

The care of young grandchildren by grandparents, especially in countries with weak provision of public childcare services, enables parents in dual-earning families and single parents to participate in the labour market.

Sometimes intergenerational transfers are motivated by strong structural pressures, for instance having an adult child who cannot afford childcare (where grandparental assistance is the only feasible mode of childcare). In other cases, transfers arise from motives such as the desire to spend more time with grandchildren, and to have a positive impact on their learning outcomes.

Whether the transfers arise from necessity or choice has an impact on how the ‘giver’ of the transfers (money, time etc) experiences the relationship, and can affect their quality of life.

  • What everyday intergenerational engagement are you part of?
  • Do you assist parents, children or grandchildren?
  • Is this something you are pleased to do or something you feel obligated to do?

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

© Trinity College Dublin
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