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"Families in context: Unraveling the ways in which policy, economic, and cultural contexts structure generational interdependencies in families and their life outcomes"

Final Report Summary - FAMILIES IN CONTEXT (Families in context: Unraveling the ways in which policy, economic, and cultural contexts structure generational interdependencies in families and their life outcomes)

The multigenerational family realm is a critical mediating force between changes in Europe, such as neoliberal welfare restructuring and labour market reforms, and the micro-level of individual lives. Findings did not reveal the typical North-West versus South-East divide in European patterns of intergenerational support in families. There is much greater diversity within the Central and Eastern European region than is generally assumed.
Moving beyond the typical concepts of “specialization” and “redistribution” which describe patterned links between public and private streams of intergenerational support, the Families in Context project has carefully pinpointed how public policy arrangements in Europe can mandate, block, generate, and lighten generational interdependence in families. Generational interdependence in families is a complex phenomenon, in that it has rewarding elements such as rights, support, continuity and protection against risks, as well as unsettling elements such as obligations, vulnerabilities related to events and resources of others, and transitions beyond a person’s control.
The project stayed away from the habitual approach to culture, which is to treat it as a black box for residual, unexplained differences between countries. Instead, we carefully conceptualized cultural context in terms of individualism, familialism, and generalised trust, showing that they differentially predict the likelihood that people rely on sources in and outside the family in case of need. An important conclusion is that values of autonomy and independence do not imply a retreat from family responsibilities. Rather, they are representative of higher levels of social trust, which generate greater confidence in substituting the family’s support with support found in the wider community.
Another achievement is that Families in Context research has revealed how macro-economic changes are visible in family behaviour. Intergenerational transfers in families have important implications for the labour supply of helpers and recipients as well as their capital accumulation. A first illustration: grandparental investments of time have helped enable women’s increased labour force participation. A second illustration: co-residential arrangements have been one of the avenues by which multigenerational families protected vulnerable members from economic hardship.
Given the absence of existing data on the family ties of migrants from Central and Eastern European countries, we carried out a large-scale longitudinal survey using the Generations and Gender Survey (GGS) questionnaire among Polish migrants in the Netherlands, the Families of Poles in the Netherlands (FPN) survey. Poland has become the main sending country to the Netherlands, and the number of Polish migrants entering the country exceeds the number of the “old” migrant groups taken together. The FPN data are publicly available, and no one has any exclusive right or priority to use them to work on any research question. A unique feature of the FPN survey data is that they can be matched with GGS data from the country of origin (Poland) and from the country of destination (the Netherlands), enabling the unravelling of policy, economic, and cultural influences on family behaviour. FPN data enabled us to find out which of two contrasting images of transnational family ties deserved more credence: broken by migration or maintained despite the distance. We observed three rather than two types among the ties between Polish migrants and their parents in the Netherlands: harmonious, detached and obligatory. Findings suggested a typically Polish pattern of familialism: efforts to remain in touch despite the distance. Even “detached” child-parent ties showed a high likelihood of face to face contact. A combined focus on families and migration provides unique insights into cultural influences on family behaviour, and reveals a continuous trade-off between family solidarity, material wealth, access to healthcare, and social interaction.