Baby Boomers’ Generational Transmissions in Finland (Gentrans)

There is widespread concern about the situation of the baby boomers (cohorts born 1945-50 and around these years) in Europe. How will they behave after retirement in the next decades? How will their care relationships and other activities develop?

Most challenges now facing Finnish society – the pension bomb, shortage of new employees, needs for social services and health care, the demographic dependency ratio, gendered divisions of care, etc. – are affected by the actions of baby boomers. Prediction of generational interaction is complicated, among other things, by longevity (the existence of up to four generations simultaneously) and the emergence of “new” families with children who have multiple sets of parents and step-parents. Cuts in the welfare state also affect generational transmissions. An individual’s position in the labour market and existing welfare state policies affect his/her position at different stages of the life cycle and also have strong relevance for members of the family. However, for a lineage of three generations, the welfare state plays a very different role; family members have differing positions as financers and consumers.

Theoretical framework. This study is based on a two-pronged theoretical fundament. On the one hand it represents a continuation of our previous research on generations and the family. We understand the family as an institution extending beyond the nuclear family to comprise at least three generations. For us, family is not primarily a legal or social construct but a highly context-sensitive, biosocial institution based on kin and partner relationships. The second theoretical aspect concerns giving, reciprocity and altruism, and sibling as well as parent-children conflicts. In friendship and many kin interactions, giving is normally related with an expectation of reciprocity, of a “tit for tat”. Degrees of relatedness and perceived proximity may alter these expectations towards more altruistic behaviour. Generations do not help each other abstractly, or due to legalistic obligations, but on the basis of complex patterns of emotions, sense of family, morality, and perceived need for and possibility of care provision. We shall consequently consider family relationships by also incorporating insights from evolutionary theory, as a step towards multidisciplinary, integrated study of human behaviour.

Research questions. Our main research question is: what happens to the Finnish baby boomer’s family relations and what kinds of relationships (economic, emotional, care provision and other interaction) between different family members will develop during the 21st century? Following international examples (Bengtson-Giarrusso 1995), we plan the study so that it can be repeated several times and that it is possible to follow baby boomers from ripe age (and via their life stories, from their childhood) to death, as well as their children from early adulthood to old age. We focus on the following questions:

  • How do baby boomers help/have helped their parents and what help do/did they get from them? The same questions are asked concerning their children and their parents.
  • How intense are the contacts between these generations and what is their nature?
  • What are the realised or potential economic help and inheritances and expectations of these?
  • How are social benefits interacting with forms of informal generational interaction? How do transnational care settings affect these interactions?
  • What kind of gendered and kin patterns do generational transmissions follow? For instance, are matrilineal forms of help stronger in some social milieus and patrilineal in others? Is their evidence of son or daughter preference and in what situations?

Data and methods. We shall conduct a new representative survey, partly in connection with the proposed EU Midlife project (if successful) and conduct life history interviews with selected people participating in this survey. In addition, we shall use other studies with panel data as well as existing statistics and registers. As methods of analysis, we use, standard quantitative analysis (cross-tabulation, EDA, log linear models, correspondence analysis) as well as qualitative analysis of large text sets using standard packages to generate life history models. The team has long and many-sided experience in various research methods.