Intergenerational Transfers, Life Course Events, and Social Inequality. A Longitudinal Comparison of Gifts and Bequests in Germany
Nationales Bildungspanel NEPS Universität Bamberg Germany,
Juniorprofessur für Soziologie mit Schwerpunkt Bildungsungleichheit im Lebenslauf (Vertretung) Universität Bamberg Germany,
The paper addresses two deficits of the sociological literature on private financial transfers between the generations: the lack of a longitudinal perspective and the insufficient account for gifts as intergenerational transfers inter vivos. In Germany, gifts are highly private and leave more scope for decision-making than the regulated bequests. Thus, gifts are better suited to test theories on family solidarity and transfer behavior. Our analysis focuses on larger gifts, which parents and grandparents give to their children and grandchildren. To support the analysis with a comparative reference, we include bequests in order to highlight similarities and differences between both types of transfers. We refer to Szydlik's model of intergenerational solidarity on need and opportunity structures as a theoretical framework. In our account, bequeathing is characterized as behavior which is not necessarily purposive, highly restricted by normative and legal obligations, and cannot be reduced to an economic frame of reference. Gift-giving is assumed to be purposive action driven primarily by economic needs of the receivers, but also by non-material aspects of family ties. Hypotheses for both types of transfers are tested with retrospective data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP). Using event history models we investigate the effect of changes in the life course on the chances of receiving transfers. The analysis for bequests confirms the results of previous research: increased chances to receive an inheritance and increased amounts inherited for high social strata, late birth cohorts and persons with few siblings. Our analysis of gifts yields new results: women are considerably disadvantaged; in high status families gifts are more common, but the received amounts are lower (here, donees can expect an additional inheritance, whereas large gifts replace bequests in low status families); form a life course perspective, increased chances to receive a larger gift occur immediately after marriage and also after divorce. The discussion outlines an extended model for the explanation of transfers inter vivos, which broadens the scope of the analysis to include reciprocal aspects of intergenerational transfer behavior. Older generation's financial gifts are related to the younger generation's opportunities to offer instrumental transfers of help and care.