• General
  • Current
  • Reasons
  • Aim
  • Objectives
General background

The Action will address the subject of intergenerational family solidarity, an enduring characteristic of families (Brubaker, 1990) and one of the most important elements influencing subjective wellbeing (Silverstein & Bengtson, 1991). Intergenerational solidarity is a priority in European societies, arguably more important today than in earlier decades, as people live longer and share more years and experience with younger generations. In less than four decades more than one third of the population in Europe will be aged over 60 and one quarter will be older than 65 (Eurostat, 2012; Ferring, 2010; The World Bank, 2013). Combined with this ageing of populations, changes in family structures, norms and behaviours particularly a decrease in fertility rates, has brought about a new family form known as the “beanpole” families which has relatively many vertical ties and relatively few horizontal ties (Bengtson, 2001). All of the above pose significant challenges to individuals, families and societies and place family solidarity between different generations in the current EU agenda.

Although there is a growing activity around intergenerational family solidarity and neighbouring topics (e.g., active ageing, intergenerational relationships), the understanding of the benefits gained by different generations from the same family in distinct settings, such as in education, work, health and human development, are disaggregated and understudied and need an interdisciplinary interchange of knowledge and coordination between European countries. Additionally, the literature suggests that the different dimensions of intergenerational solidarity – associational solidarity, consensual solidarity, structural solidarity, normative solidarity, functional solidarity and affectual solidarity (Bengtson & Roberts, 1991) – differ in importance in various European countries. For example, support for norms of family obligation tends to be lower in generous welfare states, and, in turn, norms are plausibly more powerful determinants of behaviours in countries with limited public support systems (Cooney & Dykstra, 2011). Dykstra and Fokkema (2011) address the variability in intergenerational family solidarity within and across countries. They conclude that, with regard to intergenerational relationships, four types of late life families can be distinguished, but the prevalence of the different types varies across European countries. Nonetheless, a striking lack of comparative information on eastern European countries is apparent from the literature on intergenerational family solidarity (e.g., Daatland, Herlofson, & Lima, 2011; Dykstra & Fokkema, 2011). Since eastern European countries have substantially different welfare systems, family values and cultures, and political, religious, social and economic histories from their western neighbours (Fokkema & Esveldt, 2006; Lubiewska, 2012), research comparing eastern and western Europe has utmost priority.

This COST Action aims to address these gaps in knowledge and sets out to: a) explore and develop the multidisciplinary and inter-country potentials of nationally funded research in the field of intergenerational family solidarity; b) build bridges and promote knowledge transfers between the researchers, practitioner and policy-makers communities, both across different knowledge areas and European regions; c) explore existing research frames and plan new research pathways through collaboration between established and Early Stage Researchers (ESR).

Given these aims, a COST Action is the best funding route due to its remit to promote international multidisciplinary collaborations and the coordination of existing regional programmes of research. The coordination of the study of intergenerational family solidarity across Europe will benefit from the networking mechanism provided by COST, which allows for flexibility and collaborations across countries. At this stage, there is a need to coordinate fragmented funded-research by different nations and to organize a common platform to facilitate networking and to provide opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaborations and capacity-building. This COST Action will provide such a platform, delivering the following advantages: a) the creation of a new research network that will act as a channel to aggregate and innovate around intergenerational family solidarity and address current knowledge gaps; b) the transmission of new academic perspectives to facilitate best practice for practitioners and policy makers; c) the enhancement of a cohort of ESRs across a range of disciplines reflecting the Action’s aims and the expertise of the network; d) the development of high quality intergenerational family solidarity programmes well suited to other funding streams such as Horizon 2020.

It this line, this Action will deliver a wide range of advantages relevant to research, practice and policies at local, national and international levels sponsored by the extensive network of research centres across Europe, highlighting its relevance, timeliness and demand.

Current state of knowledge

Research has shown that intergenerational family solidarity is an important determinant of wellbeing. Specifically, intergenerational family relationships are viewed as a relevant component for successful coping and social integration in old age (Silverstein & Bengtson, 1991), and such relationships contribute to the psychological well-being of individuals throughout the life course (e.g., Albert, Labs, & Trommsdorff, 2010; Marques & Lopez, 2013; Schwarz et al., 2010). Studies of the effects of family solidarity on coping with situations of crisis or transitions (personal, social and economic) have revealed that higher family solidarity contributes to better adjustment in such situations (e.g., widowhood, immigration) (e.g., Katz, 2009; Katz & Lowenstein, 1999; Silverstein & Bengston, 1991). In line with equity theory, Bengtson’s solidarity model assumes that reciprocity or more balanced exchanges are positively related with individual well-being, even when this reciprocity takes place later in life (Bengtson, 2001; Bengtson, Giarrusso, Mabry, & Silverstein, 2002; Silverstein & Bengtson, 1994). In fact, older people’s well-being was consistently higher when they were reciprocating or even giving more (e.g., take care of their grandchildren). Empirical findings suggest that several structural factors are likely to influence intergenerational family solidarity, namely gender, age, ethnicity, religious background, immigration history, marital status, employment situation, geographical proximity, socioeconomic factors and health (e.g., Albert, Ferring, & Michels, 2013; Andrade & Fontaine, 2008; Attias-Donfut, Cook, & Hoffman, 2012; Coimbra, Ribeiro, & Fontaine, 2013; Ferring, Michels, Boll, & Filipp, 2009; Herlofson, 2013; Hoff, 2007; Lubiewska, 2012; Matias, Andrade & Fontaine; 2012). In facing the challenge of an aging global population, the World Health Organization (2002) suggested an active aging approach to achieve the vision of providing the elderly with a positive experience of longer life through optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security. Intergenerational solidarity is addressed in lifelong learning programmes to promote active aging. Although programme evaluation studies demonstrate the positive impacts and effects on older people, its impact on younger people is not well researched (e.g., Feldman, Mahoney, & Seedsman, 2003; Manheimer, 1997; So & Shek, 2011).

Since the early seventies, Bengtson and his colleagues have continued to develop and expand this model within the Longitudinal Study of Generations research programme. Patterns and consequences of intergenerational solidarity based on regional and national samples have been replicated in several US studies (Rossi & Rossi, 1990; Bengston & Haarootyan, 1994; Umberson, 1992), in a rural Welsh sample (Silverstein et al., 1998) and more recently in a sample from Germany (Schwarz, Trommsdorff, Albert, & Mayer, 2005). Cross-cultural research initiatives linked with intergenerational family solidarity and neighbourhood topics are growing in Europe. For example, the OASIS study (Old age and autonomy: the role of service systems and intergenerational family solidarity), an EU-FP5 project, was the first to provide cross-national data on intergenerational family solidarity across the 5 European participating countries (e.g., Silverstein, Gans, Lowenstein, Giarrusso, & Vern, 2010). More recently, the “Multilinks”, an EUFP7 project, focused on investigating how changing social contexts, from macro-societal to microinterpersonal, affect social integration, well-being and intergenerational solidarity across different European nations (e.g., Dykstra & Komter, 2012). These projects conclude that very little is known about differences between western and eastern European families and very few studies addressed the benefits of intergenerational family solidarity in key life domains. Also, there is a profound dearth of research focused on how to maintain and foster meaningful connections and intergenerational solidarity between children/youth, their parents, grandparents and great grandparents (Michels, Albert, & Ferring, 2011; Seedsman, 2006), an area not addressed by the last described programs nor by any other previous European program (e.g., Generations and Gender Programme, SHARE, FamWork).

Currently there are pockets of research into intergenerational family solidarity and its benefits in countries such as Portugal, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Romania, Estonia, Poland, Ireland, Norway, Germany, among others. However, researchers from European countries report that with limited resources and opportunities for meetings, networking and a sustained infrastructure support, the dissemination of their findings, and a robust, collaborative, multidisciplinary, inter-country research is unfeasible. It is therefore difficult to establish consistency within research on the topic and to share the benefits and strategies to nurture solidarity between the young, middle and old generations.

Reasons for the Action

A COST network will address current gaps on intergenerational family solidarity through the opportunity to co-ordinate and harmonize research in this field across Europe. There is also a need for an expert multidisciplinary network as research on intergenerational family solidarity spans many disciplines including psychology, sociology, social work, public health, human geography, economics, education, social policy and medicine. This network is aiming to develop scientific understanding and to increase awareness in researchers, practitioners and policy makers on the benefits of intergenerational family solidarity in priority areas of life and on the potential for interventions to nurture family solidarity between different generations.

Besides scientific advance, the Action aims to address European economic and societal needs. The current European economic crisis is increasing vulnerabilities across generations, reducing public sector support and is making poverty a growing concern. In this line, opportunities for discussion and capacity-building on cost-effective manners that build on existing institutions (i.e., family) and do not require major public sector intervention/support are much needed.

The added value of the Action can be summarized in the following points concerning the immediate and future benefits:

– Immediate benefits include a broad appraisal of intergenerational family solidarity across Europe and links with important life domains using the expertise of high-ranking scholars as well as ESRs in the field. The Action will provide a platform to discover, synchronize, discuss and classify the country specific references on the areas of interest. Participating scholars will exchange methodologies and techniques to analyse the data in order to organise comparative research. Earlycareer researchers will gain significant benefit from the establishment of a supportive COST network, by mentoring/support from established researchers, scientific exchanges and the opportunity to develop collaborative protocols for research. This network will develop scientific understanding and increase awareness among researchers, practitioners and policy-makers, through the organization of collaborative activities that facilitate engagement with non-academic partners.

– Future benefits: The Action will encourage national and European policies to nurture family solidarity between generations. The Action will also serve as a long-term exchange platform for researchers, practitioners, policy-makers in the field, open to include additional COST and non-COST countries. The participation in the Action by leading scholars in the field will ensure a multiplication effect by attracting other scholarly participants to join the network. The inclusion and encouragement of ESRs to self-coordinate and network will promote their future careers. Activities arising from the Action will subsequently ensure the optimum development, design, planning and conduct of the future intergenerational family solidarity research programmes.

The main objective of the Action is to coordinate European research in the field of intergenerational family solidarity as well as to build bridges and promote knowledge transfer between the researchers, practitioners and policy-makers communities. This innovative Action will create a multidisciplinary network to develop collaborative pan-European nationally funded research to:

i) determine the extent and benefits of intergenerational family solidarity across generations, in key life domains, for providers and recipients,

ii) explore ways and identify best practice to strengthen family solidarity between generations, and

iii) explore the opportunities for the development of cross-national studies that includes European countries from different and underexplored localizations.

1. Synchronize and improve nationally funded research on intergenerational family solidarity across Europe (including different European regions) through the development of a formal multidisciplinary and inter-country network of researchers;

2. Develop interdisciplinary research capacity, advance scientific understanding across Europe on the importance and impact of intergenerational family solidarity across generations in priority domains of life and plan new research pathways, through collaboration between established and Early Stage Researchers, in a well-specified series of seminars, conferences, researchers’ exchanges, training schools and joint publications;

3. Provide a core inter-disciplinary body of knowledge that can support the maintenance of wider research collaborations as well as the development of specific research that covers different thematic and geographical gaps, through the development of new EU partnerships and joint research proposals (ensuring the sustainability of the network beyond the life of the Action);

4. Offer support and stimulate a growing number of Early Stage Researchers in this field, particularly through Training Schools, Short-Term Scientific Missions (STSM) and conferences;

5. Promote awareness on the impact and ways to strengthen family solidarity across generations amongst researchers, practitioners and policy-makers and involve these communities in order to open up the scientific discussion and find effective ways to transfer knowledge and put it into practice, including the production of research-informed strategic insights and recommendations, namely policy and practice oriented publications. This inter-stakeholder communication will be promoted through Working Group meetings and Action conferences.

Progress towards each objective will be assessed in concrete terms at each Management Committee Meeting during the life of the Action.



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