Intergenerational equity, equality and reciprocity in economically and politically turbulent times: narratives from across generations

Josephine M. Wildman*, Anna Goulding, Suzanne Moffatt, Thomas Scharf, Alison Stenning

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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The concept of intergenerational fairness has taken hold across Europe since the 2008 financial crisis. In the United Kingdom (UK), focus on intergenerational conflict has been further sharpened by the 2016 ‘Brexit’ vote to take the UK out of the European Union. However, current debates around intergenerational fairness are taking place among policy makers, the media and in think-tanks. In this way, they are conversations about, but not with, people. This article draws on qualitative interviews with 40 people aged 19–85 years and living in North-East England and Edinburgh, Scotland's capital city, to explore whether macro-level intergenerational equity discourses resonate in people's everyday lives. We find widespread pessimism around young people's prospects and evidence of a fracturing social contract, with little faith in the principles of intergenerational equity, equality and reciprocity upon which welfare states depend. Although often strong, the kin contract was not fully ameliorating resentment and frustration among participants observing societal-level intergenerational unfairness mirrored within families. However, blame for intergenerational inequity was placed on a remote state rather than on older generations. Despite the precariousness of the welfare state, participants of all ages strongly supported the principle of state support, rejecting a system based on family wealth and inherited privilege. Rather than increased individualism, participants desired strengthened communities that encouraged greater intergenerational mixing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2284-2303
Number of pages20
JournalAgeing and Society
Issue number10
Early online date22 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2022
Externally publishedYes

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