Why Financial Inequality Can’t Simply Be Blamed On Older People Hoarding Their Wealth
Karen Rowlingson, 10 Nov 17

I’m sorted. via shutterstock.com

Millennials are typically spending three times as much money on housing costs as their grandparents, according to recent research from the Resolution Foundation think tank. It has warned of a tight spending squeeze for young people.

But stark inequalities such as these between generations should not blind us to the staggering inequities to be found within generations: this is an issue that is every bit as intra-generational as it is intergenerational.

This is the result of my recent research, a three-year project exploring intergenerational relationships within families by examining the giving and receiving of lifetime gifts. The study was carried out in the context of warnings from organisations such as Policy Network and the Intergenerational Foundation of potential conflict between “wealthy” and “poor” generations.

Defining lifetime gifts as those worth £500 or more, we interviewed members of different generations from 15 families, each of which featured a baby-boomer born between 1945 and 1965. We then carried out two surveys, each questioning around 2,000 people, about the giving and receiving of major financial gifts within families.

Who is helping who

What we found was that social, economic and demographic factors are generally pushing the UK’s families together rather than driving them apart along generational lines. People may be even more determined than they used to be to help members of their own families.

The problem is that some are simply far better placed than others to do so. Some are easily able to provide support, whereas others are essentially incapable. And it is this dichotomy that is entrenching the gap between rich and poor and reducing equality of opportunity for all.

Not for everyone. via shutterstock.com

According to our study, in 2014 just 22% of British adults – fewer than one in four – had received one or more gifts of £500 or above from family members. Crucially, such gifts were far more common within middle-class families, whose members could usually find the necessary funds from their existing income or savings. By contrast, the older members of working-class families were often able to support younger generations only after selling possessions or taking out loans themselves.

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