Intergenerational support as a reaction to the socioeconomic crisis

Ana Maria Preoteasa gave the first interview of the Social Innovation online Journal, thus begining the series of RoIS Interviews. You can access the video here.

Alexandra: Why is it important to understand the support practices in Romania?
Anita: The idea of studying intergenerational support became important when in a research project in which I was working in those years it was an international research project, I was working in collaboration with the University of New Chatel in Switzerland and I discovered that there is a mechanism of very important coping for a part of the population that is neither in poverty, nor in prosperity, and which I then called precarious prosperity. This survival mechanism that practically draws on the other generations, that is, in terms of providing support either from the younger or the older generations, plays a very important role for the population that is in precariousness. This support is important because it basically fills some holes and the literature has shown that in many countries where the welfare state is weak, the role of the family is very important. If the welfare state is weak and if the role of the community is not very strong, then, in difficult moments of your life, you turn to the family. And not only in difficult times, I mean, there are practically many situations in life where you need help. For example, the birth of a child, the moment when the child grows up and has to go to kindergarten or the illness of a family member. Especially in case the community has no centers, no kindergarten, no centers for sick or disabled people or for the elderly. Then you turn to family. A family member takes on the role of caretaker for the person in need in the family.
Alexandra: For whom would the article be important? Who would be essential to read this article?
Anita: When we do academic research we draw some conclusions. We don’t always think of policy makers and those who can read our texts. In this case, however, I think it is important to see that there are certain categories of the population that are not included in the social services system or in the social assistance system or in the social assistance system and that still need help because practically in our article one of the conclusions was that this disadvantaged population category, a category structurally defined as being above the poverty line, but below the level of prosperity, needs help and the vast majority of those we included in research have top-down help from older people. What was surprising was to see that people with pensions, so elderly parents, adult parents, elderly people who do not have extraordinarily large pensions, help their adult children. And, the most sociologically interesting, it’s a phenomenon we didn’t expect, but we’re still thinking about the effects. Ok, that might be fine if everyone is happy. Young adults are satisfied, Seniors are satisfied. But it is not so, because it is clear that there is a conflict. In general, this intergenerational support comes with a lot of ambivalence, there is harmony in helping, but there is also conflict because always the person, the elder will treat the young adult, the adult who should be independent, like a child. And then the conflict arises. Yes, and it is something that can damage the relationships within the family, because it is somehow unnatural that this help of the elderly population to the young people, and when I say young people I am including people who are 35 or 40 years old and who, for financial reasons fail to have an independent life and continue to live in the multigenerational household with their parents, often they fail to get a job, especially those from rural areas.
Alexandra: It seems to me that on a certain level, here we are talking about an intersection of two different welfare models. A traditional one where family members, the extended family, were very much expected to live together, help each other, independence was not necessarily as important as living together for all generational levels and the new model, say, more individualistic, and more interested in personal success.
Anita: Yes, what’s interesting is that really, this traditional model that you’re talking about and where the family is the main support for the individual, yes, the family is the one that provides resources that help the individual to develop, somehow this model comes from a set of social norms. As they say: you have a child, so that someone will give you a glass of water in old age or help you in old age. Yes, in this there is a social norm that is present at the international level, that is, it is not only in Romania. There has always been this pattern where the younger generations, towards the younger generations goes this expectation of being a support for the older generations. Indeed, in the traditional model, aid was not only material, that is financially I support my parent to live in a home for the elderly or I help him financially. There really was this permanent support, both instrumentally and emotionally. Practically the individual was bound to this both morally and socially. All the rules said that they had to support their parent, stay with them, be by their side. That worked until a certain point, as long as society allowed a person to stay at home. Nowadays, we are in a situation where women no longer stay at home. Women usually stayed at home and took care of the children. They took care of sick people in the family, disabled people or elderly people in the family. Now the situation is very different and you practically need this independence and autonomy to be able to be financially able to support yourself. It is not healthy for the young person to know that he is supported by the elderly person, by the parent who has a pension.
Alexandra: Somehow a pragmatic question forms in my mind: what should people who are in a similar situation know to make their lives easier?
Anita: I think a very important thing is to realize that this help or intergenerational support as we call it sociologically, whether it comes from the top down, that is, from the parent to the child, or whether it comes from the child to the parent, it can somehow come with serious emotional consequences sometimes, that is, for the child being supported by the elderly parent is not very healthy. It is true that somewhere this help comes when the child does not have the opportunity, as an adult, the young adult-child does not have the opportunity to move to another stage of his life, to live alone, to be able to have a job, to go through certain transitions, for example starting a family, having a child or entering into a romantic relationship. Clearly, the financial situation is what can lead to these transitions easier or harder, and then the help comes from the parent, but it is clear that it has costs on the young person, on the adult. On the other hand, the fact that the young person helps their parent can be important and can save the day in some moments. The elderly person or the adult person who needs help, whether has health problems, it is clear that they are in a crisis situation and it would be important to receive this help, whether from the top down or from the bottom up, to come as a response to a crisis i.e. not to be something continuous and to realize that practically, this help cannot be for an unlimited period, because at some point, either party, whether young or old, expects reciprocity. Because in any social relationship we expect reciprocity, no matter how much we say that we do not, it is clear that reciprocity is needed
Ana Maria Preoteasa, Ionela Vlase, Laura A. Tufă (2018) Intergenerational support as a reaction to socioeconomic crisis: alteration of solidarity within precarious Romanian households, European Societies, 20(1): 111-130.

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