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Family Structure and Intergenerational Transfers: A Comparison of 55-63 Year Olds in the U.S. and Britain

Archived Abstract of Former PSC Researcher

Glaser, Karen, Emily Grundy, John Henretta, and Michael J. Murphy. "Family Structure and Intergenerational Transfers: A Comparison of 55-63 Year Olds in the U.S. and Britain." AHEAD/HRS Report No. 96-034. July 1996.

This study uses data from wave two of the HRS (1994/95) and the broadly comparable British Retirement and Retirement Plans Survey (1988) to compare two middle generation cohorts in order to examine the impact of differing demographic histories on the potential demographic and expectation 'burdens' experienced by those in late middle-age.

There are a number of reasons for supposing that the family responsibilities of those in their late fifties may vary between the US and Britain. In the cohorts under consideration achieved fertility was higher in the US. Moreover, much higher proportions of young adults attend college in the US and state support is much lower than in Britain. As a result adult children may remain economically dependent for longer in the US and this, combined with fertility differences, places a higher burden on adults in later mid life. An added factor of importance is that more of the US respondents will have experienced marital disruption, making the ratio of supported to dependants possibly even less favourable. In addition, Americans in later middle age may more often have responsibilities for their own ageing parents than their British peers as the life expectancy of individuals over 65 is higher in the US than in Britain.

The study's findings show that middle generation adults in the US have more surviving children than in Britain and that a higher proportion of parents of middle generation individuals are alive in the US than in Britain. Although differences in question wording between the two surveys are substantial and therefore caution must be exercised in the interpretation of results, as expected a higher proportion of American respondents provide financial assistance to children, whereas it appears that British respondents are more likely to provide time transfers to children than their American counterparts. With respect to the older generation, British respondents also appear more likely to provide assistance to their parents and are more likely to coreside with an elderly parent when compared to the Americans. Thus it is important not only to look at demographic factors, but it also becomes necessary to examine the expectation burden, that is differences in policy and attitudes that affect time transfers to parents/children, and the financial assistance required by adult children and elderly parents.

Dataset(s): OPCS Retirement and Retirement Plans Survey: Britain, 1988. Health and Retirement Survey Wave 2: U.S., 1994-1995.

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