Intergenerational Relations and Inequality: Transmission of Wealth in Europe

Ronny König, University of Zurich, Institute of Sociology
Bettina Isengard, University of Zurich, Institute of Sociology
Marc Szydlik, University of Zurich, Institute of Sociology

Intergenerational solidarity through the whole life course is an important characteristic of family relationships and cohesion. Support of parents for their children does not stop after the adult children have left the parental home. However, although solidarity between family members has been a frequent subject of research over the past years, comparatively little is yet known about the influence of social inequality on intergenerational solidarity in adulthood. In what way does social inequality influence intergenerational transfers, and what is the effect of family support on social stratification?

The paper addresses this research gap and examines the determinants of intergenerational cash flows in the context of social inequality using the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) in 15 European countries, from north to south and west to east. The analyses employ a multigenerational perspective by investigating various types of financial transfers, namely monetary support such as cash, gifts, or valuables during lifetime or thereafter in the form of inheritances.

The multilevel analyses indicate a perpetuation of social inequality over generations and even a cumulation of (dis)advantages across the life course. Financial resources and wealth largely remain in higher-class families and are transmitted over generations. Better-educated and rich parents have abundant resources that they use for the benefit of their offspring. Children are born into higher- or lower-class families – which has tremendous consequences for their whole lives. The connections between intergenerational solidarity and social inequality also apply to functional solidarity between generations in adulthood, showing country-specific influences of economic and political conditions. Wealthy parents are in a much better position to support their adult children with money – and these children are much more likely to receive something, thereby confirming the Matthew principle: “To him that hath shall be given”.


Presented in Session 1127: Ageing and Intergenerational Relations