15 March 2012
A paper for the ILC Global Alliance examining household structure and intergenerational relations across a spectrum of countries.
In this report we initiate a dialogue on multigenerational households and intergenerational relations from a global perspective. This report reviews the status of multigenerational households and intergenerational relations in specific countries that vary widely in terms of social attitudes, population structure, cultural traditions and economic development. The theme of the report was developed jointly by ILC-India and ILC-UK, through shared concerns about changes in household structures, and anxiety about ways of maintaining intergenerational relations. This report features contributions from:
For some of the countries represented in this report (e.g. the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and the UK), the global economic crisis has brought intergenerational issues to the fore recently. This has prompted a critical examination of relationships between younger and older people within multigenerational households and families, and beyond in non-familial intergenerational relationships. Some of this has been on the macro-level, with much of the rhetoric pitching younger generations against older. Other countries meanwhile (e.g. South Africa and Singapore) have emerged relatively unscathed from the economic crisis, and in these countries other changes in social attitudes, and economic development of a different sort, are drivers of change in intergenerational relations and household structures. While all countries now arguably have an ageing population, in some countries represented in this report, fertility rates have dropped below replacement level and their populations have been ageing for a considerable time; some Western countries already have an older population that is now fairly closely approximate to the size of the younger population (under 16 years). Yet other countries represented in the report are still in an intermediate stage of demographic transition with the younger population significantly greater in size than the older population, albeit with rapid growth in the number of older people.
Despite these demographic differences, certain common themes have emerged in the reports of the different countries. Most prominent among the themes is a decline in the number of multigenerational households in recent years, observed in the majority of the countries. Gender is another common theme, with older populations disproportionately made up of women, and the majority of older women widowed and the majority of older men living in couple relationships. Gender is evident moreover in patterns of care provision, with women identified in several countries as primary carers to older people (Argentina, Dominican Republic, France, India, South Africa, Singapore, UK) - and most probably the case in all countries. In several countries (Dominican Republic, India, South Africa) older women are also often primary care givers to grandchildren, although this role is not mentioned specifically in other countries, particularly those with a low prevalence of multigenerational households.
The prevalence of multigenerational households differs by country type, and generally high income countries have a lower proportion of multigenerational households and low and middle income countries a higher proportion of households, although as mentioned, other cultural and social factors differentiate between countries that are similar in many other ways. Furthermore, while household structures have changed substantially in higher income countries, and the proportion of multigenerational households has declined against a context of economic and social change, research does show that although intergenerational relations evolve, they nonetheless remain essentially intact.
In this report, the focus is on familial relations and less so on non-familial relations. Each country report has been structured around the following questions:
How many older people in your country currently live with their family in a multigenerational household?
How have the numbers of multigenerational households changed over the past 40-50 years?
Which factors influence the prevalence of older people currently living in multigenerational households?
Do families, and particularly younger family members, provide formal or informal care for older relatives who need care and/or support?
How has the changing economic situation of older people changed the pattern of care giving within families?