Family is Central Shock Absorber for those Affected By Recession According to Research Presented At The Changing Generations Seminar

Posted on: 26 April 2012

Family is a central, and in some cases, the most important shock absorber for those affected by the recession according to findings from a new research study entitled Changing Generations. Interest group members from throughout Ireland gathered in Galway to attend the Changing Generations seminar to discuss how solidarity between generations helps in coping with and overcoming the recession.  Facilitated by Dr Gemma Carney, NUI Galway and Dr Catherine Conlon, Trinity College Dublin, the event brought to the public domain insights from interviews with 100 ordinary people, from all walks of life and every age group.

This two-year study highlights that:

  • There is strong solidarity between the younger and the older generations in Irish society. Older research participants advocate enhanced supports for younger people, especially educational investment into children from disadvantaged backgrounds and better access to health care for families. Younger participants are strongly supportive of maintaining or even enhancing supports for older people.
  • Family is a central, and in some cases the most important, shock absorber for those affected by the recession. For instance, the project data gives insights into practices of ‘quick loans’ between family members. Three-generational households and adult children moving back into parental homes also feature in project data.  Those without a family network find imagining a positive future for themselves more difficult.
  • There is widespread distrust in the ability of Irish policy-makers to rectify unfairness in how resources are currently allocated. There is a widely shared perception that ‘insiders’ and politicians are out-of-touch with the lives of ordinary people in Ireland.

An informed public discussion on the importance of solidarity between the generations to the future of Ireland is long overdue. The event offered citizens from all walks of life and of all ages an opportunity to engage with a positive programme of work for Ireland’s future.

Leading expert Professor Virpi Timonen, Director of the Social Policy and Ageing Research Centre at Trinity College Dublin, commented: “This event is of great importance in initiating a future-oriented discussion on what sustains us in this deep recession, and what will get us out of it.  For most people, the family is the central resource that helps them to cope. This is a strength of Irish society, but it also places people in very different positions as some families are under huge pressure, while others are better resourced to give support in the form of time, advice and money. This reliance on the family is therefore also a source of inequality in Irish society”.

The project data corroborates and gives an in-depth illustration of many of the findings from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), which has provided evidence on extensive exchanges of help and support between older and younger family members in Ireland.

The Changing Generations research project is part of an increasingly important area of scientific research that explores relations between Ireland’s generations. Designed as a longitudinal study, the research aims to build the evidence base necessary to inform public opinion on solidarity between the generations.

Professor Tom Scharf of NUI Galway is an expert on ageing and the social policy of later life. His work takes a life-course perspective, which calls on policy-makers to start planning now for the future needs of children born today and to consider the past experiences of older people when legislating for today’s ageing populations.

“The preliminary findings from this research show that we need to start thinking about how policy can be developed with inter-generational transfers in mind, taking account of the role of family and community in providing social protection throughout our lives,” said Professor Scharf.

As part of our commitment to raising public awareness around solidarity between generations, the Changing Generations research team invited all members of Irish society with a stake in its future to take part in a citizen deliberation in NUI Galway.  Participants included Youthwork Ireland, National Youth Council of Ireland, Active Retirement Ireland, Living Scenes intergenerational project, Irish Senior Citizens Parliament and many others who are not representing any organisation but who wish to take part in this important discussion.

The guest speaker was Vicki Titterington, from the Beth Johnson Foundation, a UK-based organisation that has been leading the way in promoting intergenerational practice for forty years ( Vicki runs the Linking Generations project in Northern Ireland and spoke about the importance of intergenerational work before the deliberations begin.