Reciprocity in relationships: socio-economic and health influences on intergenerational exchanges between Third Age parents and their adult children in Great Britain




In this paper data from a nationally representative British longitudinal study are used to analyse exchanges of support between Third Age parents (aged 55–75) and their adult children. Results show that between two thirds and three quarters of parents in this age group were involved in some sort of exchange relationship with at least one of their children. Generally, more Third Age parents were providers than recipients of help, but there was a strong reciprocal element to intergenerational exchange with, for example, married parents who provided support to at least one child being twice as likely as those who did not to receive support from a child, after allowance for a range of relevant parental and child characteristics. Parental characteristics associated with higher probability of providing help included higher income, home ownership and being married or widowed rather than divorced. Higher income and home ownership were, however, negatively associated with odds of receiving help from a child, again after adjustment for other co-variates, suggesting socio-economic differences in the balance of support exchanges. Children seem responsive to parental needs in that receipt of help from a child was positively associated with older parental age and with parental disability. The paper shows that in Britain, as in the USA, the balance of intergenerational exchanges involving Third Age adults is downward rather than upward, in contravention of depictions of older adults as ‘burdens’ on younger generations. Current demographic and social changes are, it is argued, likely to increase support demands from adult children to Third Age parents in coming decades.