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Inter - Generational Solidarity Appunti scolastici Premium

Materiale didattico per il corso di Sociologia del benessere del professor Pierpaolo Donati. Trattasi dell'articolo del professore dal titolo "Inter - Generational Solidarity: a Sociological and Social Policy Issue", all'interno del quale si affronta il tema delle relazioni intergenerazionali e dei cambiamenti nella struttura della famiglia... Vedi di più

Esame di Sociologia del benessere docente Prof. P. Donati




In order to understand the historical discontinuities I am referring to, we can

recollect that, generally speaking, the relations between families and governments have

followed two typical patterns or stages.

a. In the first half of the twentieth century, national welfare states used to address

families and children mainly in terms of social control: families were granted economic,

legal and material provisions in exchange for men's control over women and children.

Family rights embodied individual rights so that people (in particular children) suffered

from bonds which were too compelling. Children's rights were greatly restricted: they

were almost completely subsumed under the family coverage. In case of family failure,

total institutions were delegated to pick up the children.

b. Since the second world war, national welfare states have, in a sense, reversed the

previous pattern: they have acknowledged an increasing number of social rights and

provisions for individuals and social categories (in particular women, handicapped

people, old people, and children), but have left the family apart. The rights of the family

as a social group and institution have been undermined in many respects. In a certain

sense, the family has lost its citizenship. The overall outcome has been the decline of

fertility and the creation of a social environment unfavourable to the reception of the

newly born (be it a direct or an indirect effect).

The evaluation of the positive and negative outcomes of these policies cannot be

elaborated here, both because I have not enough room here and because this subject is

already well documented (e.g. Dumon ed., 1989).

c. Nowadays many countries (particularly western countries) are entering a stage (or

pattern) which is very different from the previous ones under many aspects.

On the one hand, the new trends contradict the old pattern (which used to be

dominant until the end of the XX century) in so far as the family cannot be considered

and handled as a social control agency which acts on behalf of the state: the family has

acquired an increasing autonomy (autopoiesis) and is oriented towards managing its

generational problems even more privately.

On the other hand, the new trends must differ from the old patterns in so far as it

becomes clear that the multiplication of individual rights is only a partial solution. If we

want to have a social environment which is more sensitive to children's needs, then we

must give proper consideration to the repercussions that the lack of social support for

families has on children.

1.3. In the perspective of the development of citizenship rights, the new issues

revolve around the need for a better compatibility between individual and family rights:

both kinds of entitlements must be secured, and the pursuit of this target should be done

in such a way as to foster relations of social solidarity and equity between generations.

If societies really want to pursue this goal, then families should become valid

interlocutors of societal institutions and governments, at every level (regional, national,

and supernational). This is, I believe, our topic. From the point of view of the

development of families and children rights, the last decade has been one of lost

opportunities. But, at the same time, it has been fruitful, since a new "generational"

awareness has arisen and grown up.

1.4. This paper is divided into two parts. In the first part, I intend to sketch a profile

of the main social needs of families and children emerging all over the world today in

terms of intergenerational issues (pr. 2, 3). The argument is that sociological research

must recognize that families are a sub-system of society. In the second part, I argue that

family needs can and should be solved with reference to the issue of "intergenerational

solidarity (or equity)", which has to be defined accurately (pr. 4, 5). In the conclusions

(pr. 6), I contend that the present agenda and strategies of nation-States are not well

suited to confront the issue of intergenerational equity, and I make some suggestions

about the ways to overcome these deficiencies.


2. Where is the family going ? Emerging social needs of families and children and

the undertaking of political replies.

2.1. What do families need ?

It is of course impossible to synthesize here the very many empirical surveys and

statistical research projects done on this broad subject matter (some of the most recent

reports are listed in the final bibliography: Chouraqui, 1986; EEC Documents; Cornia

ed., 1992; Donati & Matteini eds., 1991; Dumon, 1990; Moss, 1988; Oepfn, 1990;

Qvortrup et al., 1991). What I can say, without going into detail here, is that societal

changes occurring throughout the world are deeply affecting family structures and

children conditions along with the following main trends:

- families go on splitting up (increasing the number of singles and one-parent families);

- families show a decreasing average size (mainly due to the decline in the birth rate);

- families are ageing (rise in the average age of households);

- families display worrying signs of psycho-social pathologies, both within the couple

(separation and divorces) and towards children (violence, abuse, maltreatment,


- families stick to a cultural process of privatisation in their choices, feelings, and

expectations, so that narcissistic and selfish orientations prevail on behaviours of

internal solidarity and civic participation;

- the continuing existence of poor families is also striking; we can distinguish them into

poor working families (low income strata) and underclass families (stemming from

unemployment, lack of professional training -e.g. unskilled women-, irregular

immigration and other factors excluding people from the regular labour market); but

what is more important is to observe that poverty is generally associated with particular

family structures (such as one parent families and large families with many children).

By putting the emphasis on these trends I do not mean to claim that there have been

no social advancements and no positive achievements. As a matter of fact a general and

remarkable improvement of material living conditions has taken place in most countries

in the last few decades. What I want to stress and thematise here is something which can

be expressed in the form of the following questions: is the above depicted picture

satisfactory in order to understand the deeper meaning of present changes ? is this

picture a plausible basis for a reliable sociological understanding of the situation and for

a sound social policy ?

On balance, I am afraid, the answers to these questions are negative.

If one sticks with the above sketched portrait of the social conditions of families,

then the list of needs becomes only an endless cahier de doléances which refer to:

- socially weak families (e.g. one parent families; families below the poverty line;

underclass families with handicapped children, with unemployed or unskilled members,

especially women; immigrant, socially isolated or non integrated families);

- and pathological families (e.g. severely ill, educationally inadequate or abusing


where children are stigmatised or are exposed to a wide range of risks.

If policies follow the logic of addressing single issues, they end up by formulating a

long list of needs and priorities in which the family almost disappears, or at least is

reduced only to a problematic object. This has been the dominant pattern followed until


The main shortcoming of this approach lies in the fact that the needs of families and

children are formulated in a disconnected and patchy way. So are the replies, in terms of

policies. One cannot clearly see the links between different wants and different persons

as a malfunction in the exchanges between generations.

The descriptive approach I am referring to tells us only that, on the whole, societal

changes have created deep imbalances among generations. It ends up by saying that

many families find themselves in such a situation that they cannot deal with issues of

generational solidarity and equity through the private sphere alone. This is of course


true, but it is only one side of the coin. The other side says that families and societies

have to mobilise in order to solve their problems.

The question: "what do families need ?" should be given a reply which is very

simple and extremely complex at the same time: families need to be fully recognised as


This perspective leads us to new observations. In particular it suggests that:

- (i) the living conditions of families depend on the complex of exchanges among

generations: as we know that there are social bonds between genders that penalise

women, so it is also now apparent that there are bonds between generations that

penalise those who have children in respect to childless people;

- (ii) our society cannot discharge the filial debt (the aid of younger people to the

older) on generations that are not generated; if the replacement of the population

should go on at the depressed levels which have occurred in the last two decades,

around the middle of the next century only a few social security systems will be able to

assure a fairly good income level for the older generations;

- (iii) the social needs of families and children should be given new attention not

only from the material point of view (lack of income, lodging, health) but especially

from the relational point of view. The social needs of children cannot be managed either

within the family alone nor by addressing them as a social category per se: they must be

met by looking at the adequacy of the relationships between children and their everyday

social environment. Welfare systems must operate on the network of social ties in which

children live rather than on individuals.

If we want to have a more integrated and global picture of the issues at stake, we

must consider the fact that most of the social problems arise when families do not

perform their tasks as mediating structures linking together needs and persons in a

proper way. This is the core issue at stake. One is led to the idea that it could be more

productive to look at present social problems through a re-interpretation of family

functions, and that such a perspective could also be more equitable and effective from

the point of view of practical solutions, provided that families are helped by society to

help themselves.

But is there something like "the family" ? Is it not true that the family is seriously in

crisis and that in many areas it is almost disappearing ?

As a matter of fact the trends described above are, as a rule, decoded in that way.

The most diffuse interpretations of the family condition all over the world quite often

reveal two basic biases.

I. First, they contain an evolutionist reading of the family, as if it were bound to

disappear, which is at least dubious (Lévi-Strauss, 1983).

II. Second, they reduce the family life cycle to the life course approach, treating

families only as a provisional set of contingent individual careers, which is also an

improper operation (Aldous, 1990). Of course the life span approach is a useful tool for

looking at the dynamics of households, but it cannot substitute the family life cycle


2.2. After the crisis of the family.

At this point, it becomes clear that we cannot give a significant answer to the issue

of families' and children's needs unless we have a more precise idea of where the family

is going.

Most literature on the so-called "crisis of the family" has made serious mistakes or

has incurred plain misunderstandings: on the one hand it has overestimated the crisis, on

the other hand it has underestimated it. The last decades have demonstrated that neither

the theories asserting the "death of the family" nor the theories supporting the view of a

supposed dominance of the "nuclear family model" have proved right. Neither theory


fits empirical reality, nor are they useful for social policies.

Today it should be more evident than yesterday that the family has indeed faced a

deep crisis, but this crisis must be interpreted adequately. Family changes have certainly

been radical, but not in the sense that the family is going to disappear or lose its most

relevant social functions. On the contrary, the family has proved to be an active subject:

under many respects it is still a "latent" actor of society in so far as it precedes and

exceeds it, i.e. "goes beyond it".

Extrapolating the current phenomena within and around the family as if they were to

move forward in a linear way over time could be not only wrong but also damaging. As

Roussel rightly points out, if the "uncertain" family of the present age should become

the dominant type, and if the family should therefore give up its institutional

dimensions, then for the new generations there shall remain nothing more than a mere

incitement to egotistical desires or to overt violence (Roussel, 1989).

From this angle, it becomes more and more urgent to re-read the meaning of family

changes not only in a socio-cultural perspective (as a question of fashion, opinions,

psychological feelings), but also as a social and political issue. The family must again

and again be interpreted as a difference which makes a difference: in what ways is a

family different from other social relationships and in what ways this difference is

relevant today in comparison with the past ?

If we place ourselves in such a perspective, the distinction between familiar/non-

familiar becomes more and more, not less and less, relevant and meaningful: to have a

family or not, to have a family which is competent or malfunctioning, to have a family

with a certain living style or another, all these factors become more and more

determinant in the life of children. The family as a social relation discloses itself as

increasingly discriminating in respect to non-family relations.

Why, then, have many come to believe that just the opposite is true ? The fact is that

the family is exposed to a (seeming) paradox: it becomes less relevant and more

relevant at the same time. This happens, of course, in different domains: the family

becomes less important from the point of view of social order and control (it loses

ground particularly in its relationships with the political-administrative system), while it

increases its importance in the sphere of daily informal relations, particularly those

which concern the health of children and their primary socialization.

If we adopt this perspective, it becomes clearer how and why governments have

treated the family in an ambiguous way. For instance: many national reforms appeal to

the family as a socializing agency of minors who are deviant or drop out, just when the

family displays its deep difficulties in the education of children. The fact is that in order

to understand these paradoxes we must avoid thinking of the family either in traditional

terms or in terms of sheer subjective feelings.

These considerations do not lead us to an easy evaluation of the crisis of the family.

Where is the family going ? For a plausible answer, I believe, we are led to a

perspective according to which we are witnessing a qualitative change (morphogenesis)

in the forms of the family as a social group and as a social institution at the same time.

In what does this morphogenesis consist ?

Briefly, I would like to describe it as follows.

2.3. How families change.

The new needs of families and children must be spelled out and coped with in the

context of two fundamental tendencies, which are ambivalent in themselves: (a) on the

one hand they ask for more freedom, (b) on the other hand they need new regulations

for the common good. Let us look at the two sides of the coin.

a) On the one hand the family is inclined to constitute itself on the grounds of more

and more autonomous and individualised behaviours. As a social group the family is

made up of people who are holders of individual rights (it can be called the "auto-

poietic family"). This means that families tend to become normative for themselves;

they tend to create their own structures by themselves. Seemingly this occurs on the

basis of very individualistic behaviours. One says: the family becomes an interlacing of


highly contingent individual life courses. In reality it is a new social order which

emerges. Within it the family is at the same time looked for (as a sphere of

humanization) and repressed (as a sphere of solidarity). The family, now conceived as a

mere household, demands more autonomy from society, but if such autonomy does not

encounter reasonable forms of co-ordination and social regulation it runs the risk of

converting into isolation, breakdowns, and/or emargination of people.

b) On the other hand, the family activates new social demands which become a

basic referral for welfare policies. From this point of view families manifest the

exigency of assuming a new institutional role. They ask for many interventions which

concretely regard:

- the need, for the couple, to live freely their fertility behaviours: they discover that

our society limits the freedom of procreation only downward, i.e. only in a restrictive


- the need to harmonise family life and work, and to solve this difficult issue through

a legal, economic, and social equality between the sexes;

- the need for more social protection of socially weak people living in the family, as

a consequence both of conjugal breakdowns and of critical events (illness, handicap,


- the need to reconcile family life and social services, leisure time, and civic

participation (the schedule of shops, social facilities, schools for children, TV programs,

and so on);

- the need for a fiscal treatment which can be equitable on the part of the state, and

be arranged so as not to penalise those who willingly assume more responsibilities in

favour of rearing children, and taking care of old and handicapped people;

- the need to strive against poverty without stigmatising the family itself, or its

individual members;

- the need for welfare interventions which can take into full consideration the

quanti-qualitative structure of family wants;

- the need for more support for those families who engage in enterprises of mutual

help, self-help, volunteering, and cooperation, especially in the field of personal social

services: this relates to the topic of the role of the family in community care;

- the need to have political representation in order to promote the rights of families

as consumers and clients.

At the heart of all these new needs we find the fact that social policies have not

addressed properly families' and children's conditions in so far as welfare policies:

- have stockpiled individual rights without upholding the family system as a

solidarity network for the support of the person, as it is in reality (Dumon in Shamgar &

Palomba eds., 1987);

- social security systems have not been designed according to the family life cycle

(Gilliand, 1988);

- welfare expenditures do not take into account the need for a "logic of

compatibility" between generations: generally speaking, they have devoted too much to

the elderly and too little to children (Pampel & Stryker, 1990; Preston, 1984; Sgritta,


In synthesis: all over the world, on the one hand civil society has created a deep lack

of continuity and even breaks among generations, and on the other hand both global

markets (globalization processes) and public welfare policies have complied with these

trends rather than trying to balance their inherent contradictions.

The main issue concerns the pursuit of a new, dynamic equilibrium between

families and the other spheres of society (work; school; leisure; civic activities) taking

into account the "generational variable". We need a new dialogue between families and

other social institutions inspired by full reciprocity and equity vis-à-vis the new


This is particularly important in the so called "divided families". It has been


increasingly noticed that divorce is detrimental to children, particularly because of the

fathers' absence. At the same time, it is more and more recognised that large-scale

changes in fathers' behaviour is not likely to occur by simple modification of custody

orders or improvements in child-support enforcement - or, really, by any measures

addressed solely to absent fathers. Rather, what is required is a deeper and quite radical

change in the way all fathers relate to their children. What is needed is a greater sense of

shared responsibility and partnership in childrearing. Furstenberg and Cherlin (1991, p.

119) ask us: "can it happen ?" They continue: "If women's wages in the labour market

approach men's, women may have more leverage in negotiating shared parenthood in

exchange for pooling incomes. But equality in earnings will also make it easier to be a

single parent...Perhaps the best that we can expect is a family system with unions that

are more egalitarian but less stable. Such a system might provide an improvement in

family life for adults, but it would not be a clear improvement for children".

I take this as an example of the fact that the new needs of families lead us to a new

interpretation of its social role: families need first of all to be recognised as social

subjects in themselves, as systems which provide their children with fully shared

protection even in the case of family breakdown.

On a larger scale, this means that society should consider more carefully alternative

ways of operating on the family: can society increase individual rights as mere

individual entitlements or has it to treat individual rights in a relational manner, which

implies structuring rights and entitlements so as to push people into being willingly co-

operative with each other ?

It is more and more evident that national welfare states (including the European

countries) have not taken into account the generational unbalances and their long-term

effects. Today there are many empirical evidencies that public policies must now

engage in this re-orientation.

3. Is there something like a "society of families" ? Are families a sub-system of

society ?

3.1. Let me introduce quite a simple idea.

In order to pass on from social needs to policy replies we must conceptualise the

global issue at stake in a suitable manner. Whatever the definition of "the family" and of

"family policy" (Dumon, 1987; Aldous & Dumon, 1990; Wisensale, 1990), one cannot

speak of policies for families and children without having in mind an adequate

representation of the role and functions that families as a whole perform for the entire

society. In order to be effective, this representation should be based on a wide


Now, it is a legacy of the modern era to have differentiated our society into four

fundamental sub-systems: the economy (with its markets), the political government

(with its public administration), the associations (with their autonomous organisations)

and families (with what ? as far as I can see, I would like to reply: a specific welfare

network linking formal and informal provisions and services).

Each one of these spheres has developed on the basis of its own symbolic code, with

its own means, and has built up its own institutions, through a proper codification of

rights and duties. When we speak of "national states" we refer to complex societal

systems which are articulated on the premises of specific forms of social differentiation

and integration among these four sub-systems.

From analogy, the construction of an integrated society must also make reference to

the theory and practice included in such a representation. It has a long-standing and

consolidated sociological tradition (fig. 1).


Fig. 1- The social structure of modernised societies.


Political System

(government & administration)

2 4

1 6 3

A 12 I

Economy Associations

(markets) 11 (third sector organisations)


10 8

9 7


Families and primary



As many sociological studies have elucidated, the two sub-systems of the economic

market (A) and the political government (G) have been the hinge of global

modernization in the last two centuries. They are built upon their specific generalised

means of exchange, namely money and law. The other two sub-systems, associations (I)

and families (L), on the contrary, have been penalised. So has their own role in society,

which is to foster social solidarity, reciprocity, and trust in what sociologists call the

"daily life-worlds".

A lot has been written about economy and governments; entire libraries. As a matter

of fact, political and integration across countries, difficult as it may be, seems to be

anyway easier than social and cultural integration between them. Given for granted that

we can pursue to a certain degree the economic and integration of societies, what about

the integration of the other two sub-systems (associations and families) ?

The European Union is a good example. Within the above depicted framework, in

Europe families run the risk of being treated as a mere reference for consumption and

social assistance. European Social Charter, in fact, does not mention widely and

explicitly the social rights of families, in particular with reference to the generational

dilemmas. As we all know, the national governments have different attitudes in relation

to family policies, and the principle of subsidiarity has been recognised and

institutionalised – in a quite reductive way – as a principle which afford each nation-

State to do its own family ad generational policies. At the beginning of the ‘90s, the

setting up of a European Observatory on national family policies clearly indicated that

the EU acknowledged the importance of the family as a social institution, while various

measures and initiatives (particularly concerning child care facilities, adolescents

commencing work life, poor children and migrant families) were forming the

beginnings of a common framework for young generations' rights. It seemed, at that

time, that social regulations in these field were becoming more and more inevitable. But

the situation has deeply changed during the ‘90s. The European Observatory on national

family policies has been reduced both in its ends and in its activities, while social

regulations common to the national countries have been dismissed.

Now a question arises as to the latter two sub-systems (associations and families):

what are their rights and duties ? what is the citizenship accorded to them ? To pursue a

sound project of intergenerational solidarity means to accord a new strategic role to

associations and families (Donati, 1987). As a matter of fact, we must admit that the

"fourth sub-system" (families) is, in many regards, the least clear. It is not by chance




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Materiale didattico per il corso di Sociologia del benessere del professor Pierpaolo Donati. Trattasi dell'articolo del professore dal titolo "Inter - Generational Solidarity: a Sociological and Social Policy Issue", all'interno del quale si affronta il tema delle relazioni intergenerazionali e dei cambiamenti nella struttura della famiglia come istituzione sociale.

Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea magistrale in occupazione, mercato, politiche sociali e servizio sociale
Università: Bologna - Unibo
A.A.: 2010-2011

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher Atreyu di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Sociologia del benessere e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Bologna - Unibo o del prof Donati Pierpaolo.

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