Welfare within families beyond households: intergenerational exchanges of practical and financial support in the UK

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

September 6, 2021


Families extend well beyond households. In particular, connections between parents and their adult offspring are often close and sustained, and transfers may include financial assistance, practical support, or both, provided by either generation to the other. Yet this major engine of welfare production, distribution, and redistribution has only recently become the focus of research. Who are the beneficiaries and to what extent are the patterns of exchange socially stratified? This article discusses findings from a programme of research analysing data from two nationally representative longitudinal studies, the British Household Panel Study and its successor Understanding Society, which record help given by, and received by, respondents through exchanges with their non-coresident parents and offspring in the UK. Some families exhibit a high tendency to provide mutual support between generations; these tendencies persist over time. Financial and practical support are generally complementary rather than substitutes. Longer travel time between parents and their offspring makes the provision of practical help less likely, whilst social class, social mobility, and ethnicity exhibit complex patterns of association with intergenerational exchanges. The resulting conclusion is that exchanges within families are an important complement to formal welfare institutions in the UK and that social policies should be designed to work with the grain of existing patterns of exchange, enabling family members to continue to provide help to one another, but ensuring that those who are less well supported by intergenerational assistance can access effective social protection.

Published in

LSE Public Policy Review


Volume: 2







Open Access

© 2021 The Author(s).

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.



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