Up, Down and Reciprocal: The Dynamics of Intergenerational Transfers, Family Structure and Health in a Low-Income Context
Demography, Population, and Ecology
Family, Life Course, and Society
Medicine and Health
Social and Behavioral Sciences
In the absence of well-functioning public transfer systems and safety nets, the family acts as the key provider of income and support through the intergenerational redistribution of resources. In this paper we use micro-level longitudinal data and a mix of methodologies to document the lifecycle patterns of financial transfers in a rural, sub-Saharan African population. Underneath a well-established age-pattern of intergenerational transfers in which transfer patterns change according to broad stages of the economic life cycle, our analyses document significant heterogeneity and fluidity: Intergenerational transfers are variable and reverse their direction, with individuals moving between the provider and recipient states repeatedly across their life course and within each major stage of the life-cycle. Contrary to common perceptions about family transfers ameliorating short-term shocks, transfers in our analyses are driven primarily by demographic factors such as changes in health, household size, and household composition, rather than short-term events. Overall our analyses suggest that the role of transfers in this rural sub-Saharan context is significantly more complex than suggested by theories and evidence on aggregate transfer patterns, and at the micro-level, intergenerational transfers encapsulate multiple functions ranging from direct exchange to old-age support in the absence of a public pension system.