Poverty across the generations

Across Europe, whole families – children, parents and grandparents – find it hard to escape poverty as it seems it is passed on from one generation to another.

People born into poverty are more likely than others to be poor when they get older because their life chances were undermined at an early age. In turn, there is a strong chance that their children and grandchildren will also be poor.

According to the European Commission, children growing up in poverty and social exclusion are less likely than other children to do well in school, enjoy good health and stay out of trouble.

Once poor children have grown up, they may find it difficult to get work and struggle to find their place in society.

If their own children go on to have a poor education, then find it harder to get a good job, they too are much more likely to remain poor in adulthood.

What is more, low lifetime incomes provide a poor return for pensions, which contributes to the fact that around 17% of older men and 22% of older women are at risk of poverty.

Older people who live in poverty also tend to be more socially excluded than others as they do not have the means to go out and do things.

A stubborn problem

Poverty and social exclusion are hard to defeat and as a consequence, there appears to be a 'handing on' of these serious difficulties through the generations.

Breaking what looks like a cycle is a major challenge for policy-makers because it impacts on so many areas including employment, education, social mobility, health and long-term care, family life and housing. The recent economic crisis and subsequent tightening of public finances have further worsened the situation. .

Another dimensions which adds to the seriousness of the problem is that more and more older people – many of whom live on small pensions – are having to help out their own children and grandchildren if and when the latter lose their jobs.

Problems also occur in reverse, as younger people help out parents who have lost their jobs or who are struggling to make ends meet on small pensions.

The situation is putting more people at risk of poverty, as families are having to use their incomes to support more relatives than they did before the crisis hit the real economy.

Intergenerational solidarity

According to the NGO Coalition on Intergenerational Solidarity, affordable access to quality services for children, adults and the elderly can play a vital role in preventing poverty and social exclusion.

In particular, access to education – which takes account of each individual’s overall development throughout their lifetime – can play a key role in breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

At local level, the Coalition believes that early years’ education and care services can help to break the transmission of poverty while providing a healthy environment for the development of young children and a means of strengthening parenting skills.

The concept of intergenerational solidarity encourages young and old to help each other – and provides a way of ensuring that all members of society are valued.

That is why the EU backs the European Day on Solidarity and Cooperation between the Generations, which first took place on 29 April 2009.

The European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion will continue to raise awareness and stimulate debate about how best to raise the many challenges of poverty and intergenerational solidarity.

For more information
The EU’s Social Protection and Social Inclusion Joint Report 2008
Brochure: “Intergenerational Solidarity: The Way Forward”
Age Platform Europe – solidarity between the generations