Synopsis of multilinks, an EU-FP7 project

How demographic changes shape intergenerational solidarity, well-being, and social integration: A multilinks framework

The objective of MULTILINKS has been to investigate how changing social contexts, from macro-societal to micro-interpersonal, affect social integration, well-being and intergenerational solidarity across different European nations. Debates on ageing societies predominantly focus on the circumstances of the old. Our approach built from three key premises. First, ageing affects all age groups: the young, the middle-aged, and the old. Second, there are critical interdependencies between family generations and between men and women. Third, one must recognize and distinguish analytical levels: the individual, dyad (parent-child, partners), family, region, historical generation, and country.

Building from these premises, we examined: ( a ) multiple linkages in families (e.g. transfers up and down family lineages, interdependencies between older and younger family members); ( b ) multiple linkages across time (measures at different points in time, at different points in the individual and family life course); ( c ) multiple linkages between, on the one hand, national and regional contexts (e.g. policy regimes, economic circumstances, normative climate, religiosity), and, on the other hand, individual behaviour, well-being and values. Throughout the project we tested, developed, and used methodological strategies that enable sound policy making.

To understand the family/state division of responsibility for the old and the young, three patterns in legal and policy frameworks were distinguished. These patterns pertain to the degree to which country-specific institutional frameworks support the desire to be responsible towards one’s children and frail aged parents and/or support individual autonomy, thereby partially lightening intergenerational dependencies and the gendered division of family labour. The first pattern is “familialism by default”, where there are few or no publicly provided alternatives to family care and financial support. The second is “supported familialism”, where there are policies, usually in the form of financial transfers, which support families in keeping up their financial and caring responsibilities. The third is “defamilialisation”, where needs are partly addressed through public provision (services, basic income, pensions). The three patterns exemplify that public support may both be an incentive for and lighten private, family responsibilities. A database with comparative indicators for all EU 27 countries (plus Norway, Russia and Georgia) of legal and policy frameworks shaping financial and caring responsibilities in families (gendered intergenerational regimes) was developed. The indicators represent the allocation of responsibilities to the state or to families for: caring for children, financially supporting children, caring for frail older persons, and financially supporting older persons. Care was taken to harmonize information across countries and to be explicit about decisions taken in quantifying the indicators. The usefulness of the MULTILINKS database was illustrated in several studies. A key message for policy makers is that national policies should seek to support intergenerational care regimes without reinforcing social class inequalities and gender inequalities

A consortium of nine partners organized in six teams carried out the project. All partners are involved in the Gender and Generations Program, a system of nationally comparative surveys and contextual databases, which aims at improving the knowledge base for policy-making in UNECE countries. The consortium represented a wide range of substantive, methodological and policy expertise.