. 4
( 7)


not so much based on direct emotional attachment to others but rather
on a feeling of belonging to the group, or identi¬cation. Identi¬cation
with a group often surpasses attraction or loyalty; for instance, people
may identify with homosexuals, blacks, or people of higher education,
as a group. The fourth form of solidarity is association; this solidarity
transcends established group identities and distinctions. The latter two

Solidarity and Selectivity

forms of solidarity correspond to Durkheim™s organic solidarity, whereas
the more direct attraction among individuals resembles his mechanical
A related perspective can be found in Etzioni™s work. In accordance with
the communitarian tradition in American philosophy and social science,
Etzioni (1988) pleads for the revaluation of “the moral dimension.” He
criticizes what he calls the neoclassical paradigm because it rests upon
a rationalistic, utilitarian, and individualistic picture of human nature.
This picture is wrong, says Etzioni. People do feel commitment toward
the community; they do have a sense of shared identity and shared moral
values. Choices that people make are often inspired by affective and nor-
mative motives. Moreover, individuals have only limited intellectual and
cognitive capacities, which prevents them from surveying all possible
consequences of their actions. Most choices are therefore not rational at
all, or only to a limited degree. In short, people are not merely striving
for their own pleasure or pro¬ts but act also on the basis of internalized
values and shared norms. The neoclassical paradigm has not only ignored
the moral dimension but has denied its existence.
In the next sections I combine elements from both sociological and
anthropological theories relevant to the theme of solidarity, including
the functions of ritual for solidarity and cohesion that have not yet been

Combining Anthropological and Sociological Theory

Reciprocal Obligation

In Mauss™s threefold obligation “ to give, to receive, and to reciprocate
a gift “ the principle of reciprocity is succinctly symbolized. As a con-
sequence of these obligations a perpetual cycle of exchanges is set up
within and between generations. Social ties are created, sustained, and
strengthened by means of gifts. Acts of gift exchange are at the basis of

Social Theory and Social Ties

human solidarity. The fact that gifts enhance solidarity is not restricted
to the archaic and non-Western societies described by Mauss. In our own
society the core meaning of gift giving “ its contribution to social ties “
has not changed fundamentally, although obviously its role and func-
tions in modern, monetarized society cannot be compared with those in
nonmonetarized, archaic society. Whereas in the latter type of society the
entire social system, including its economic, legal, religious, and moral
foundations, was maintained though gift exchange (it was a “total social
phenomenon,” as Mauss calls it), in modern society gift exchange has in-
creasingly come to be considered the opposite of economic exchange. Gift
exchange is supposed to belong to the private sphere and is associated with
informal and not always completely predictable social relations, whereas
economic exchange belongs to the domain of the market with its formal-
ized and predictable relations (Brown 1986). Nowadays, gift exchange has
become an instance of “social exchange” as opposed to “economic ex-
change.” Gift exchange is supposed to support the “morals” implied in so-
cial ties, whereas economic exchange fosters “markets” (Cheal 1988). The
differences between social and economic exchange have been summed up
by Brown (1986): the terms of social, in contrast to economic, exchange
are never explicit and cannot be enforced by law; above all, the de¬nition
of equivalency is not discussible.
Although too sharp an opposition between morals and markets has
been criticized (see Chapter 1), there remains a difference between the
two that relates to their respective potential of bringing about human
solidarity: gifts given in informal relationships invariably affect human
solidarity, whereas goods exchanged on the market do not. Anthropol-
ogists and ethnologists agree on the core role of the moral obligation
to return the gift. Because this obligation alternates between the parties
involved in exchange, durable social bonds and networks are created en-
abling patterns of reciprocal exchange to come into existence. Although
in sociological theory reciprocal obligation has been recognized as an
aspect of solidarity (Weesie, Buskens, and Raub 1998), it has received far

Solidarity and Selectivity

less attention in sociology than in anthropology. Nevertheless, the idea
of reciprocity is implied in most contemporary conceptions of solidarity
and related concepts like trust and cooperation (Misztal 1996).


The classical sociologists considered solidarity, on the one hand, as based
on affective ties and shared norms and values, often associated with the
small-scale communities of traditional society; on the other hand, the
more instrumental ties of association were supposed to be characteris-
tic of more complex societies where functions are specialized and where
market relations have replaced the former subsistence economy. All these
authors emphasize that their distinctions between different forms of sol-
idarity are ideal types: in concrete reality the bonds between people often
show a certain mixture. The same idea returns in Mauss™s essay on the
gift: altruism and sel¬shness are intermingled in the act of giving. It is ex-
actly this mixture that makes gift exchange a self-sustaining system: those
who refuse to take part in it place themselves outside the community.
In more modern theories on solidarity this important insight has been
In Malinowski™s assumption of a continuum of feelings involved in
gift giving, the different types of motives underlying solidarity can be
recognized: pure gifts, given out of affection, versus barter, a form of
exchange that is mainly pro¬t-oriented. Different types of motives in gift
giving were thought to belong to different types of social relationships.
The idea of a connection between the nature of the feelings involved in gift
exchange and the type of social relationship in which it takes place returns
in the work of Gouldner and Sahlins. Giving “something for nothing,”
without any concrete stipulation of returns, is supposed to occur within
the circle of close kin, whereas the “attempt to get something for nothing”
is more likely with strangers.

Social Theory and Social Ties

In addition to the affection-instrumentality dimension, another sig-
ni¬cant motive to give and to create social ties comes to the fore, in
particular in the work of Simmel, Mauss, L´ vi-Strauss, and Gouldner:
power. In much anthropological writing the exchange of gifts is analyzed
as a contest of honor. This type of gift giving may be seen as a battle re-
volving around the authority, status, and prestige of the partners involved
in the exchange. It is Gouldner™s merit to have analyzed the different ways
power may be implied in gift exchange. Although we may be inclined to
think that equivalence or equality “ tit-for-tat “ is the main principle
of exchange, Gouldner points to the different forms that asymmetrical
reciprocity may take. The notion of honor, the dangers of starting and
maintaining an exchange process, and the rivalry and power that may
color it are regular aspects of gift exchange and of attempts to create so-
cial order. Social order comprises not only ties rooted in harmony and
peace but power and authority relations as well. The theory of the gift
has made this particularly clear.
Equality or equivalence, the idea of quid pro quo, is a common basis of
exchange processes as well. To Malinowski the “pure gift” and barter are
the more exceptional motives to give, and equality or equivalence is the
most common pattern of exchange. Whether equality is in fact the main
basis of exchange, more important than, for instance, power, affectivity,
or instrumentality, remains a matter of empirical veri¬cation, but that
it is a regularly occurring pattern has been empirically demonstrated in
Chapter 2.
The theory of the gift reveals a range of motives returning in theories
of solidarity, but the variety of motives present in gift theory is larger.
The various types of motives underlying gift giving correspond to the
four models of people™s relations to things and to each other, as distin-
guished by Alan Page Fiske. Whereas sociological theory on solidarity
mainly focuses on Fiske™s ¬rst and fourth type of relationship (affectiv-
ity or “community,” and instrumentality or “market”), anthropological

Solidarity and Selectivity

theories on gift giving demonstrate that, in addition to affectivity and
instrumentality, also equality and power may be involved in attempts to
create or maintain social order.


A ¬nal element connecting anthropological and sociological theory on
gifts and solidarity is ritual. From Durkheim™s sociology of religion (1965
[1912]) “ in particular, his analysis of “primitive” Australian cults and be-
liefs “ the enormous impact of ritual for af¬rming and sustaining social
bonds and social structure has become apparent. Religious rituals are
adaptive to the life of the community by imposing self-discipline. They
bring people together in ceremonies, thereby contributing to solidarity.
Ritual also “revitalizes the social heritage of the group and helps transmit
its enduring values to future generations” (Coser 1971: 139). Moreover,
rituals have a euphoric function by counteracting feelings of frustra-
tion and by establishing the sense of being right and acting in a morally
justi¬ed way.
It is the merit of anthropologists to have uncovered the variety and
complexity of the meanings and functions of ritual. They have described
and interpreted the numerous rituals surrounding important transitions
in the life cycle, or other events that demand sacralization and ritualiza-
tion (van Gennep 1960; L´ vi-Strauss 1966 [1962]; V. Turner 1969; Geertz
1973). In his fascinating account of the Balinese cock¬ght, Clifford Geertz
(1973) offers an interpretation of ritual that differs from the usual func-
tionalist one of reinforcing status positions and social structure. The
cock¬ght can be “read as a text” saying something about Balinese experi-
ence. Participating in a cock¬ght is for the Balinese “a kind of sentimental
education” (1973: 449). The ritual symbolizes that society is built of cer-
tain emotions like the thrill of risk, the despair of loss, and the pleasure
of triumph. “Drawing on almost every level of Balinese experience, it
brings together themes “ animal savagery, male narcissism, opponent

Social Theory and Social Ties

gambling, status rivalry, mass excitement, blood sacri¬ce “ whose main
connection is their involvement with rage and the fear of rage, and, bind-
ing them into a set of rules which at once contains them and allows
them play, builds a symbolic structure in which, over and over again, the
reality of their inner af¬liation can be intelligibly felt” (Geertz 1973: 449“
450). The symbolic structure of the cock¬ght allows emotions to be ex-
pressed while at the same time putting restrictions on them by the setting
of rules.
By bringing together assorted experiences of everyday life, the rit-
ual creates a “paradigmatic human event” enabling the Balinese to see
a dimension of their own subjectivity that they would not have seen
otherwise, at least not in such a condensed form. This seems to be a
basic aspect of solidarity as well: by participating in a group activity
the individual members learn how to “read” themselves, how their ba-
sic emotions become transformed in the interaction with other people,
and how their individual being gets shaped through their interdepen-
dency with other people. In this sense rituals reinforce the main basis
of organic solidarity: mutual dependency. Rituals tie people together be-
cause they give expression to feelings of group dependency, even while
group members do not share exactly the same values or interpret the
ritual in exactly the same way (Kertzer 1988). In addition to the well-
known functions of ritual as af¬rming social ties, revitalizing group life,
and promoting the attainment of group goals, at a more basic level it
may function as a “school” where lessons can be learned about how the
group can contribute to realizing one™s own full potential. If it is true,
as Durkheim thought, that individuals can only become fully human in
and through society, then social rituals presumably ful¬ll an important
socializing role.
In most anthropological work on gift exchange the focus is on the ritual
and symbolic aspects of gift giving. Gifts are not primarily or predomi-
nantly exchanged for any economic purpose. Rather, they are instruments
to convey symbolic messages of the most varied kind, as L´ vi-Strauss has

Solidarity and Selectivity

argued. Individuals participating in the ritual and respecting its symbols
see their “emotional energy” and mutual con¬dence enhanced. Inversely,
persons showing disrespect for the symbols are subject to anger and
punishment. The solidarity generated through the interaction processes
involved in gift exchange indeed transcends the mere behavioral inter-
action between the exchange partners by extending it to the emotional
mood and the quality of the social relationship.


Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

A gift that does nothing to enhance solidarity is a contradiction.
(Mary Douglas 1990: vii)

The form of altruism closest to egoism is care of the immediate
family. In species after species, we see signs of kin selection:
altruism is disproportionally directed at relatives. Humans are
no exception.
(Frans de Waal 1996: 212)

Informal gift giving acts as the cement of social relationships because it
implies a principle of give-and-take or a norm of reciprocity, as we have
seen in the preceding chapters. This is why, according to Mary Douglas
(1990), gifts essentially contribute to solidarity. In this chapter we re-
gard a certain type of gift as an expression of solidarity. Gifts can be
material as well as nonmaterial. For instance, working as a volunteer for
the bene¬t of the community or providing care or help can be consid-
ered gifts. But at the same time these are acts of solidarity toward other
people. The degree of directness of the solidarity varies with the social
distance involved: from the abstract and anonymous giving to charity, to
doing voluntary work for a social organization or for some good cause,
to offering concrete help or care to people with whom one is personally
involved. As gift giving is more abstract and anonymous, reciprocity will

Solidarity and Selectivity

be less. The more familiar one is with the recipient of the gift, the more
a form of reciprocity is to be expected. This does not necessarily imply
that anonymous gift giving or performing volunteer work is more dis-
interested than gift giving within the context of personal relationships.
As far as empirical data about motives underlying gift giving are avail-
able, they show that a range of considerations may be involved, varying
from love and affection to self-interested, instrumental, or power-driven
motives (see Chapter 2). Although in giving to charitable organizations
purely instrumental motives are not very likely, it is not inconceivable
that soothing one™s conscience or tax deductibility are part of the giver™s
Just like gifts, solidarity is not always inherently positive in its inten-
tions or consequences. This chapter examines not only positive effects of
solidarity but some negative outcomes as well. Within a solidary group
pressures toward conformity and egalitarianism may occur. Ingroup sol-
idarity may have negative effects for those who are not participating in
the network. Moreover, solidarity may have a selective character in that
it promotes the well-being of some but does not contribute to or is even
hampering that of others. Initiating ties with some people by means
of gift giving implies by de¬nition that others are excluded. Sociologi-
cally, it is therefore interesting to investigate which social categories enter
into gift relationships and which groups are excluded from these
This chapter starts by presenting empirical data on some positive man-
ifestations of contemporary solidarity. Three forms of solidarity are ex-
amined in detail: giving money, giving time to volunteer work, and giving
care or help to persons in one™s own surroundings. Data from national
Dutch surveys are used to get an impression of the state of solidarity
in these respects. The chapter continues with a theoretical discussion of
some of the more negative aspects and outcomes of solidarity. In the
¬nal section, a selection of data derived from the previously mentioned

Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

research project on gift giving in the Netherlands (Komter and Schuyt
1993a; 1993b) is presented in order to demonstrate that solidarity is a two-
edged sword: in addition to strengthening human bonds, it may also act
as a principle of exclusion.

Positive Manifestations of Solidarity

Giving Money

In the Netherlands large amounts of money are given to charity. During
the past ten years there has been a growing “charity market” with a yearly
increase in charitable donations. Only about 7% of the Dutch people
never contribute to charity. Population growth and the annual rise of net
income are some obvious explanations. But also when money gifts are
calculated as a fraction of the national income, a slight increase is visible
between 1995 and 1999 (T. Schuyt 2001). The Dutch give most to church
and ideological organizations (26%), then to health care (17%), interna-
tional help (16%), environment, nature, animal care (14%), sports and
recreation (12%), and societal (10%) organizations. From the work of
American authors like Wolfe (1989) and Wuthnow (1991) it appears that
the growth of the “third sector” is not an exclusively Dutch phenomenon.
Unlike the Netherlands, however, in the United States a decline of money
gifts as percentage of the gross national product has been observed
(Putnam 2000).
In addition to population growth and income rise, the American soci-
ologist Alan Wolfe (1989) suggests some other factors that might in¬‚uence
people™s giving to charity “ for instance, trust in the economy and strong
family and community ties. The fact that during the past decade the Dutch
economy has ¬‚ourished as almost never before might partly explain the
Dutch generosity. Unfortunately, no research is available as yet that is able
to clarify the extent to which the increase of donations to charity is caused

Solidarity and Selectivity

by population growth, income level, the strength of community ties, the
growing number of charities, more aggressive tactics of appealing to
people™s willingness to donate money, economic developments, the type
of welfare state, or the level of state-based social security arrangements
(Esping-Andersen 1990).
A recent Dutch report of the Social and Cultural Planning Organisation
(SCP 1998) compares the number of members and donors of a range
of societal organizations from 1980 to 1996“1997. Although the num-
ber of members of religious communities, women™s organizations, and
political parties has dropped, there is a substantial increase in the sector
“international solidarity” (for instance, organizations for medical help,
foster parents, Third World help organizations). As these data are based
on absolute numbers and as the Dutch population has increased substan-
tially, the picture is not entirely representative. Nevertheless, the authors
of the report conclude that these developments in gift giving in combina-
tion with the increased membership of ideological organizations (see also
the next section) point to a ¬rm sense of citizenship among the Dutch,
in our terms, of solidarity.

Giving Time

Volunteer work is generally de¬ned as unpaid work performed within
an organized setting to the bene¬t of other individuals, organizations, or
the society at large. Internationally the Netherlands shows up rather well,
when it comes to participation in volunteer work. The Social and Cultural
Planning Organisation (1998) presents data from 1981 and 1990, compar-
ing volunteer work in twelve countries. In both years the Netherlands
occupies a ¬fth place. In 1990 it comes after the United States, Canada,
Sweden, and Norway. Compared with other European countries the num-
ber of people participating in volunteer work on a regular basis (and not
merely incidentally) is relatively high in the Netherlands, in particular in
the domains of culture, recreation, and education.

Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

table 6.1. Volunteer Work in Several Domains for Persons Aged Eighteen and
Older, 1977“1995 (weighed outcomes in %)

1977 1980 1983 1986 1989 1992 1995
Political and ideological aims 4 5 5 5 5 5 7
Occupational, professional, labor
organizations 4 6 4 4 4 4 4
Religion, theology 7 11 9 9 10 9 11
Culture, sports, hobbies 17 29 25 25 25 23 27
Education, child nursing, youth work 10 13 15 15 14 13 18
Women 4 6 5 5 4 4 3
Assistance (e.g., advice, information) 4 7 3 2 2 2 4
Help to neighbors, aged, or disabled 11 9 13 11 13 12 14
Number of activities
None 67 55 59 59 59 61 54
One 23 28 26 25 26 26 28
More than one 10 17 13 11 13 12 14

Source: SCP-Report (1998).

The substantially increased percentage of Dutch citizens as donating
members of some organization during the past ¬fteen years is largely due
to their participation in volunteer work. Recreation attracts the largest
number of volunteers, but education (parental aid to schools), child nurs-
ing, and youth work are also popular. Moreover, since 1977 more time
is spent on work with ideological aims. The data, derived from national
surveys, are summarized in Table 6.1.
Who are the ones spending their free time to volunteer work? Are there
any changes in the number and pro¬le of volunteers during the past ¬fteen
years? About as many people volunteered in 1980 as in 1995, as Table 6.2
shows. About one-third of the Dutch adult population performs some
sort of volunteer work. The participation of the younger age group has
clearly decreased and constitutes the least active category nowadays, while
the participation level of the population aged thirty-¬ve and older has
grown. The impact of education has become less: in 1980 the more highly

Solidarity and Selectivity

table 6.2. Participation in Volunteer Work according to the Time-Allocation
Diary by Sex, Age, Education, and Population Category, 1980 and 1995

Hours by % of Leisure Time
% of Participants Participants by Participants

1980 1995 1980 1995 1980 1995
All 33 32 4.3 4.9 8.4 8.9
Men 36 31 4.6 6.0 8.9 11.2
Women 29 33 4.0 4.0 7.9 8.0
18“34 years 30 22 4.3 4.5 9.1 9.1
35“54 years 37 39 3.8 5.0 7.9 10.4
55“74 years 33 36 5.2 5.3 8.5 8.5
Lower education 28 27 4.0 4.7 7.3 8.8
Middle education 38 34 4.3 5.3 8.3 10.0
Higher education 47 36 4.9 4.4 10.0 9.0
Four big cities 28 26 4.7 5.1 8.7 9.6
Other 100,000+ cities 34 31 4.7 5.2 8.5 10.4
Rest of the Netherlands 33 33 4.2 4.8 8.3 9.3
(n) (2,354) (2,918) (768) (933) (768) (933)

Source: SCP-Report (1998).

educated formed the most active category, but this is no longer the case in
1995. An interesting gender difference shows up: while men™s participa-
tion in volunteer work has dropped in 1995 compared with that in 1980,
the percentage of participating women has increased. Interestingly, in the
same period women™s labor participation has also increased substantially
in the Netherlands: in 1980 not even one-third of the female population
available to the labor market had a paid job, whereas in 1994 this pro-
portion has risen to about half of this population. Although almost half
of these are part-time jobs, the total amount of hours women spend in
paid work has strongly increased in this period: from 7.2 to 14.6 hours
per week. It is therefore striking that women™s participation in volun-
teer work has also increased, particularly the housewives™ participation,
among whom 41% performs some volunteer work in 1995 against 30%

Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

in 1980. Compared with students, people with or without paid jobs, and
retired people, housewives are the most active participants in volunteer
Other research (van Daal 1994) offers some more detailed information
about the pro¬le of the volunteer. The traditional gender differences show
up in the nature of the volunteer work involved, with women spending
more time with the sick, elderly, and disabled, with children, and in ac-
tivities related to school, whereas men spend more of their free time in
sports, trade unions, and political organizations. Religious people are,
in addition to their work for the church, more active in providing assis-
tance, whereas the more highly educated are relatively well represented in
managing functions. What motivates people to spend time in volunteer
work? It does not come as a surprise that civic virtues inspired by a con-
cern with all kinds of social issues, humanitarian involvement, and social
responsibility are often mentioned as motives. But people also report
more instrumental considerations like diversion, seeking social contacts,
and entertainment (Willems 1994).
In short, changes in volunteer work over the years do not so much con-
cern the number of people involved because this remains almost constant;
rather, it is the pro¬le of the volunteer and the nature of volunteering
activities that have undergone changes.

Giving Care

In another report of the Social and Cultural Planning Organisation
(1994a) informal care is conceived as an aspect of the broader concept of
social support, in particular the instrumental component of it. Informal
care comprises practical tasks or concrete services: help with personal or
household care. In this study emotional care is not regarded as a part of
informal care. The recipients are people who are requiring care according
to certain objective criteria that relate to chronic illness or old age. Infor-
mal care is considered as having a relatively enduring character: help that

Solidarity and Selectivity

table 6.3. Care Given to Persons Inside and Outside the Household by
Persons Aged Sixteen and Older

Estimated Number
Percentage of Caregivers in
in Sample the Netherlands
General care inside the household 20 2,400,000
Care to persons requiring help inside
the household 4 500,000
General care outside the household 20 2,400,000
Care to persons requiring help outside
the household 10 1,200,000
Care inside and/or outside the
household 34 4,100,000
Care to persons requiring help inside
and/or outside the household 11 1,300,000

Source: SCP-Report (1994a).

is offered on a regular basis. The care is informal because it is generally
given in people™s homes and given voluntarily “ that is, without ¬nancial
recompense and outside the context of a professional or organizational
setting, like professional assistance or volunteer work. In contrast to pro-
fessional assistance or volunteer work, informal care is often embedded
in a personal relationship between the giver and recipient of the care, as
they are participating in the same social network.
In the Netherlands informal care is provided on a large scale. Table 6.3
gives an overview of the amount of care provided inside and outside one™s
own household, to people who are explicitly requiring care as well as to
those who are not. One in three people “ about 4 million “ are offering
help to others in their direct surroundings that is not necessarily related
to illness. Table 6.3 also includes general care “ that is, caring for relatives
living inside or outside one™s own household; childcare and household
care are excluded. If we look only at care provided to those in need, it
becomes apparent that about 1.3 million Dutch people offer this care,

Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

table 6.4. Participation and Time Spent in General Care Inside and Outside the
Household by Persons Aged Sixteen and Older, 1975“1990

Participation (%) Hours per Week Spent

1975 1980 1985 1990 1975 1980 1985 1990
Care inside the household 30 28 22 20 1.4 2.2 1.4 1.6
Care to family members 12 12 12 10 3.5 2.9 3.4 3.8
Care to nonfamily members 14 14 17 12 3.0 3.1 3.7 4.1
Total care outside the household 22 23 26 20 3.7 3.4 4.0 4.5

Source: SCP-Report (1994a).

which amounts to 11% of the population aged sixteen or older. General
care is provided by 20% of the population, either inside or outside the
household. A quarter of the help provided inside the home is related
to illness or disability (0.5 million persons). Half of the care provided
outside the home relates to illness (1.2 million of people).
As the individualization process is frequently assumed to have had a
negative in¬‚uence on people™s willingness to support one another infor-
mally, it is interesting to compare the developments over time. Are there
any changes in the contribution to informal care over the years? A com-
parison of the years 1975“1990 shows that the supply of the care provided
outside the home has not undergone any substantial changes (Table 6.4).
The proportion of people helping family members remains between 10%
and 12%. Somewhat more people, 12% to 17%, offer care to nonrelatives,
but again there is no clear trend, although the time spent to care for
nonrelatives seems to have increased from 3 to 4 hours weekly. Inside the
home the data (in which household and childcare are excluded) show
some changes, though: fewer people provide care to relatives (other than
their own children) “ from 30% in 1975 to 20% in 1990. A possible ex-
planation might be that households have become smaller between 1975
and 1990. The average amount of time spent caring for relatives, however,
remains the same “ about 1.5 hours weekly.

Solidarity and Selectivity

It is a well-documented fact that the group of informal caregivers
consists mostly of nonemployed middle-aged women. The SCP research
(1994a) shows that twice as many women as men provide informal care,
15% versus 7%. Most caregivers are between thirty-¬ve and sixty-four
years of age. Within the group of informal caregivers 34% of the women
are employed as against 61% of the men, while the corresponding ¬gures
in the general population are 37% and 64%. Most background charac-
teristics like gender, age, education, and employment have only a very
modest in¬‚uence on whether a person provides informal care. Much more
in¬‚uential is the context in which the care takes place “ for instance, the
geographical proximity between caregiver and recipient. However, care-
givers do display a greater societal concern compared with the population
at large: they prove to be more often members of various organizations
and are more frequently religious.
As a consequence of the growing number of elderly people and the
increase of single persons the demand will inevitably grow. Because SCP
prognoses predict that the informal care supply will remain about the
same during the next decades, shortages can be expected in the future.
For our theme of solidarity, however, it is crucial that on the basis of
comparative research over the years no decline in people™s willingness
to provide informal care is yet visible. That the demand for care will be
growing is mainly due to demographic developments in the Netherlands
and not to a failing solidarity with fellow citizens.
An important question that remains to be answered is to whom infor-
mal care is offered. When do people put aside their own concerns and
problems to bene¬t somebody else? From biological and psychological
research on altruism it has become clear that people identify more easily
with their near relatives than with others (Wisp´ 1972; Wilson 1975). Fur-
thermore, identi¬cation with those whose interests are congruent with
ours is more likely than identi¬cation with people unknown to us. Here,
an important but largely neglected characteristic of solidarity comes to
the fore, namely its selective and excluding nature.

Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

Negative Aspects and Consequences of Solidarity

In sociology solidarity has primarily been conceived as an inherently
positive concept. In most theories of solidarity its bene¬cial effects to
the group members are stressed. From the early theories of T¨ nnies and
Durkheim on, it has been assumed that acts of solidarity are directed at
achieving a common good and generate feelings of interconnectedness,
a “conscience collective,” and a shared identity. These theories empha-
size the bene¬ts deriving from a Gemeinschaft of strong communal ties
and shared interests, or from a sound Gesellschaft in which mutually
dependent individuals pro¬t from a functional division of labor that
strengthens their feelings of organically belonging together.
However, solidarity is not predominantly or exclusively the warm and
friendly category we usually assume it to be. Various types of risks may be
involved in group solidarity (Komter 2001). While several authors have
discussed internal risks that threaten solidarity from within the group,
its external risks “ risks for those who are not participating in the sol-
idary group as a consequence of the behavior of the participating group
members “ have received far less attention. Internal risks are, for instance,
free riding, the decay of the overall salience of solidarity as a consequence
of the high costs involved in executing solidarity (Lindenberg 1998), con-
¬‚icting interests internal to the group (Ostrom 1995), or strong emotional
reactions to losses that could result due to the uncooperative behavior of
other group members. In strongly tied networks this may lead to vendetta
and endless feuds (Uzzi 1997).
Other internal risks to group solidarity are pressures toward confor-
mity and egalitarianism. Strong group norms may impede innovation
in organizations. In his discussion on relations of trust, Coleman (1990)
mentions as an example the ¬nancial community in London. In some
¬nancial companies in which trade secrets play an important role there is
a general norm against hiring an employee who has left a sensitive posi-
tion in a competing ¬rm; this group norm may re¬‚ect ingroup solidarity,

Solidarity and Selectivity

but at the same time the ensuing practice reduces innovation because
many good ideas remain unexploited. Although ¬rm groups may suc-
cessfully mobilize resources in order to maintain themselves, they may at
the same time put under restraint the innovating potentialities of individ-
ual group members by enforcing conformity to group norms. In addition
to harboring tendencies toward conformism, the group may adopt be-
havioral codes of egalitarianism by sanctioning individuals who perform
better or attempt to excel over their fellow group members. Dominant
group norms may threaten the individual freedom of the group mem-
bers by isolating them from the surrounding culture. Among Ameri-
can immigrant communities a person who has aspirations to surpass
his or her own group is teasingly called a “wannabe.” In their descrip-
tion of what they call a “hyperghetto” Waquant and Wilson (1989) stress
the same phenomenon: solidarity based on a common adversity dis-
courages individuals from taking advantage of possible chances outside
the ghetto.
What negative external risks may be involved in solidarity? A ¬rst ex-
ample concerns the negative norms and beliefs toward nongroup mem-
bers. While strong ingroup solidarity favors acting in accordance with
the rules of honesty, acceptance of authority, and mutual respect, it may
discourage such attitudes toward outsiders. Strong feelings of ingroup
favoritism may encourage differential moral standards toward in- and
outgroup members: values and behavior of outgroup members are not
measured by the ingroup moral standards but are seen as a deviation from
these and therefore not as worthy of acceptance or toleration. Groups
with strong religious convictions come to mind here (with fundamental-
ism as an extreme consequence), but also rival football clubs or groups
with strongly contrasting cultural backgrounds. Ingroup solidarity may
also result in concrete inimical behavior toward outgroup members. The
stronger the inclusive power of solidarity, the more pronounced will be
the boundaries that separate the ingroup from the outgroup, “us” from

Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

“them,” and the stronger and more concrete the exclusion of outgroup
members will be.
Some attempts have been made to elucidate the relationship between
solidarity and exclusion “ in particular, those originating in the tradi-
tions of economic sociology and anthropology. A representative of the
former school of thought, Roger Waldinger (1995), for instance, stud-
ied the interaction between economic activity, ethnicity, and solidarity
among African American, Caribbean, Korean, and white entrepreneurs in
the construction industry in New York. Embeddedness within informal
networks of one™s own ethnic group engenders social capital promot-
ing people™s capacity to obtain scarce resources. Social capital is taken to
refer to the advantages ensuing from relationships of mutual trust and
cooperation. When somebody has similar ethnic, class, or gender char-
acteristics, he or she is simply perceived as more trustworthy. Mutual
trust promotes cooperative behavior and the exchange of information
and allows people to pro¬t from their networks (Raub 1997; Raub and
Weesie 2000). Waldinger concludes that solidarity has two sides: on the
one hand, embeddedness within informal networks fosters economic
activity within one™s own ethnic community; on the other hand, it is
a powerful means to exclude newcomers: solidarity reinforces informal
resources for group members but impedes membership for outsiders by
refusing them access to these resources. Also Portes and Sensenbrenner
(1993) have recognized this phenomenon; they discovered that the same
social structures facilitate goal-directed activity for some but put restric-
tions on the activities of others. The foregoing examples make clear that
strong ingroup solidarity may be dysfunctional from the perspective of
the wider community: the achievement of the interests of the wider col-
lectivity may be thwarted by the strongly felt ingroup solidarity of its
In many cases a combination of internal and external risks occurs,
as is shown in de Swaan™s (1988) sociological-historical account of the

Solidarity and Selectivity

rise of collective state-based solidarity arrangements in various Euro-
pean countries and the United States. From his analysis of the sponta-
neous associations for mutual ¬nancial assistance in case of unemploy-
ment formed by Dutch citizens in the nineteenth century, it appears that
authentic mutual solidarity was at the same time a strength as well as a
weakness of this form of collective care. Although homogeneous mem-
bership was a source of solidarity, it could also cause new risks “ shortage
of expertise, insuf¬cient inspection, no ¬xed rules and procedures. More-
over, the autonomous collective arrangements resulted in the exclusion
of the less privileged citizens.
Strong ingroup solidarity, then, may not only generate pressures to-
ward conformity and egalitarianism, it may also contain the potential
for de¬ning other groups as enemies and engaging in con¬‚ict with them.
Con¬‚ict with another group may, in turn, serve to increase the ingroup
solidarity of both groups, thereby intensifying the con¬‚ict between them
(Wrong 1994). More generally, as Georg Simmel (1950 [1908]) already
made clear at the beginning of the twentieth century, social ties neces-
sarily imply both bonding and exclusion, namely of those who do not
share the distinctive group characteristics and who are allowed neither to
share the group aims and interests nor to participate in the activities to
achieve these aims and interests. Solidarity and exclusion, then, are two
sides of the same coin.

The Two-Edged Sword of Solidarity

That solidarity and exclusion can go together is also illustrated in the
empirical results of our study about gift giving in the Netherlands (Komter
and Schuyt 1993). In addition to investigating the effects on gift giving of
class, gender, and age (see Chapter 2), we studied speci¬c categories of
respondents in more detail “ retired people, housewives, students, and
employed and unemployed people (among whom several respondents
were living on disability pensions).

Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

table 6.5. Gifts, Given or Received, according to Social Position, % (N)

Employed Unemployed Retired Housewife Student
To From To From To From To From To From
Presents 89 66 72 41 77 53 88 75 96 78
(270) (200) (21) (12) (46) (32) (73) (62) (22) (18)
Money 86 57 55 48 88 22 90 57 61 87
(261) (173) (16) (14) (53) (13) (75) (47) (14) (20)
Food 72 60 52 52 67 47 71 59 70 74
(218) (182) (15) (15) (40) (28) (59) (49) (16) (17)
Stay 66 45 55 45 60 30 63 23 87 83
(200) (136) (16) (13) (36) (18) (52) (19) (20) (19)
Care/help 67 58 55 41 42 40 75 58 78 52
(176) (136) (16) (12) (25) (24) (62) (48) (18) (12)
(N) (303) (29) (60) (83) (23)

Note: N = 498. The deviation from N = 513 is due to missing participants.
Source: Komter and Schuyt (1993b).

An important precondition to participation in gift exchange is taking
part in social networks, circles of friends or family members who meet
each other on a more or less regular basis. Many gifts are given dur-
ing informal meetings between friends (sometimes colleagues) or while
having dinner or drinks together. We know by now that much gift giving
takes place within still unsettled, yet important social relationships. Our
research results con¬rm this: students appear to be great givers. Other
very important occasions of gift giving are the many rituals still surviving
in our society. Highlights of ritual gift giving are, of course, Christmas,
Valentine™s Day, anniversaries, births, wedding ceremonies, jubilees, and
the like. Ritual gift giving seems to occur more often within relation-
ships, which have become more or less settled. Women presumably play
an important role in ritual giving. Indeed, con¬rming both Caplow™s and
Cheal™s studies on this point (Chapter 4), the housewives in our sample “
together with the students “ prove to be the greatest givers, as is shown
in Table 6.5.

Solidarity and Selectivity

The Matthew Effect of Gift Giving

Who are the poorest givers and recipients? Table 6.5 shows the results.
Unemployed people appear to give less to others than all other categories
of respondents, and this holds for all kinds of gifts. The unemployed also
appear to receive less than the other respondents on all kinds of gifts,
except staying at another person™s house. Many authors have pointed to
the restricted social networks of people living on minimum wages or
on unemployment bene¬ts (Engbersen et al. 1993). Together with their
poor ¬nancial resources, this might explain the low level of gift exchange
among the unemployed. For those living on a retirement pension the
same pattern shows up as with the unemployed. With the exception of
money gifts, retired people give somewhat less to others, compared with
the other categories of respondents. Retired people, however, also receive
less than the other categories of all kinds of gifts, except presents; in
general, they are the lowest recipients of all categories of respondents.
To summarize: those who give much are also the ones to receive a great
deal; this is the positive side of reciprocity. The negative side manifests
itself with those categories of people who are not in the position to give
much themselves, the (long-term) unemployed and elderly people; they
prove to be the lowest recipients. When one™s social and material condi-
tions are such that it has become dif¬cult “ if not impossible “ to give to
other people and, related to this, when one has become devoid of social
networks, one seems to receive in proportion very little.
Solidarity clearly has a selective character: people seem to choose “
probably mostly not in a conscious way “ those social partners in their
gift relationships who are “attractive” to them, because they can expect
them to give in return at some time. The rule of reciprocity tends to dis-
advantage those who are already in the weakest social position. Merton
has called the process of disproportionate accumulation of bene¬ts to
those who already have much (in his case academic bene¬ts, like recog-
nition and fame in the academic world) the “Matthew effect,” after Saint

Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

table 6.6. Different Kinds of Help toward the Different Recipients

Different Kinds of Help, N (%)a
Daily Help Relational
Incidental (transport, (support,
(moving, gardening, comfort, Total
Recipients small jobs) shopping) talk) Childcare Other Amount
Parents (in-law) 29 (24.8) 64 (54.7) 10 (8.6) 2 (1.7) 12 (10) 117
Own children 20 (54) 5 (13.5) “ 10 (27) 2 (5) 37
Extended family 54 (32.7) 34 (20.6) 23 (13.9) 39 (23.6) 15 (9.1) 165
Friends 53 (37) 21 (14.7) 29 (20.3) 27 (18.9) 13 (9.1) 143
Total amount 156 (33.8) 124 (26.8) 62 (13.4) 78 (16.9) 42 (9.1) 462
Number of times that help was given and percentages of total amount of help given to this
Source: Komter and Vollebergh (2002).

Matthew “ “. . . unto every one that hath shall be given” (Merton 1968).
The same process applies to gift exchange, as our research demonstrates.
Not being able to do good apparently has its own price.

Philanthropic Particularism

Another example of solidarity acting as a principle of exclusion can be
deduced from a secondary analysis of the same research data (Komter
and Vollebergh 2002). The focus of the analysis was on care as one of the
most clear-cut indications of solidary behavior toward other individuals.
In particular, we investigated the relative importance of familial solidarity
and solidarity toward friends. Therefore, we analyzed which categories of
respondents received the most care or help. We identi¬ed several kinds
of help or care: incidental help, for example, with moving to another
place or with odd jobs around the house; help related to daily activities
like shopping, gardening, or children™s transport; and emotional support,
such as offering sympathy or consolation. Table 6.6 shows that most help
is given to other family members, then to friends, and ¬nally to parents

Solidarity and Selectivity

and children. Note that parents are probably a numerical minority: they
consist of at most four people (one™s own parents and parents-in-law),
whereas the number of other family members and friends may be much
greater. Furthermore, Table 6.6 indicates that help and care given to
other family members consists of all kinds of help, with a somewhat
stronger emphasis on incidental help or care. The same applies to friends.
Psychological help is given mostly to family and friends. The percentage
given to parents is considerably smaller and appears insigni¬cant where
children are concerned: presumably, this kind of help is considered so
obvious that respondents do not care to mention it. The same probably
applies with giving help to one™s partner: this form of help is regarded
as so natural that it does not even enter the minds of respondents. For
this reason, help or care given to the partner has been omitted from our
analysis. This deletion colors our results to some extent; mentioning help
or care automatically entails some connotation of obligation: where help
is more natural and obvious, the sense of obligation disappears and will
no longer be perceived.
Nevertheless, it can be concluded that parents and other family mem-
bers combined receive more than twice as much help as friends do. An-
other ¬nding from our research is that people without children give
signi¬cantly more help and care than people with children, particularly
when help and care toward family and friends are concerned (Komter
and Vollebergh 2002).
Two conclusions can be drawn from the results. First, parents and other
family members combined are overwhelmingly favored over friends when
giving care or help is concerned. Second, those with children prove to be
less supportive toward their friends and wider family than those without
children. Both ¬ndings might be interpreted as manifestations of what
Salomon (1992) has called “philanthropic particularism,” an inherent
tendency of voluntary initiatives to favor those with whom one identi¬es
most. Our study demonstrates that solidarity in the form of offering care
or help has the same selective character: primary family and extended

Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

family taken together do receive more care and help than friends. Those
who are deprived of family relationships are clearly at a disadvantage with
respect to day-to-day solidarity in the form of care and help.
From our data it can be concluded that the amount of material and non-
material gift giving in the Netherlands is substantial and does not warrant
any serious worries concerning diminished solidarity or increased self-
ishness and individualism: 65% of the respondents reports having given
care or help over the past nine months, while 55% has been a recipient
of care or help (see Table 2.1). This is the positive side of gift giving. How-
ever, the practice of gift giving has a negative side as well. The gift econ-
omy appears to possess a rather harsh regularity, which seems to con¬rm
social inequality: those who need it most receive the least. Douglas and
Isherwood™s observation that “reciprocity in itself is a principle of exclu-
sion” (1979: 152) has found empirical substantiation in our research data.
People whose social circumstances are deteriorating, for instance, by be-
coming unemployed and dependent on state bene¬ts, or by becoming
elderly, often face diminishing life chances, shrinking social networks,
and increasing isolation. In turn, growing social isolation means less par-
ticipation in gift exchange and diminishing opportunities to develop the
feelings of “faithfulness and gratitude,” as Simmel called them, that are
essential in bringing about the wish to return a gift.
The “Matthew effect” causes a substantial imbalance in the distribution
of gifts among different social categories, con¬rming the already existing
inequality in social resources. The mechanism of “philanthropic partic-
ularism” implies that primarily one™s own family bene¬ts from giving
care or help. The mechanism may have an evolutionary origin compa-
rable with the one underlying altruistic behavior: this behavior proves
to be primarily oriented toward relatives and near family (Wilson 1975;
Dawkins 1976; de Waal 1996).
As Beck (1986) has argued in Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity,
the process of individualization leads to winners and losers. Some groups
pro¬t from the process by securing themselves a greater autonomy and

Solidarity and Selectivity

more options to participate in society. Other groups become separated
from traditional support networks and are incurring increasing risks
of losing their jobs and incomes. Solidarity as expressed in gift giving
appears to have the same two-sided character as individualization: some
social categories are clearly bene¬ting more from it than others. Due to
the mechanisms inherent to gift giving that have been described here,
solidarity can be considered a two-edged sword (Waldinger 1995).

Inherent Failures of Solidarity

In the Netherlands more and more money is spent on charity. This can
partly be explained by the rise in net incomes; however, in combination
with the fact that a growing number of Dutch people have become mem-
bers of ideological (religious and other) organizations, one might as well
conclude that there is an increase in civic virtues and solidarity in this
respect. Since 1980 the Dutch are active participants in voluntary work,
and there have been no signs of decline until now: about one-third of all
adults spend some of their time in volunteer work. As concerns informal
care, a similar picture arises: the supply of informal care has not changed
considerably between 1975 and 1990. Again about one-third of the Dutch
provide care to others inside or outside the home.
Although in the common conception of solidarity positive connota-
tions prevail, it is not necessarily a positive concept. Whereas the data
from our national surveys do not warrant too pessimistic a view on the
level of solidarity as expressed in informal care, our own research on gift
giving demonstrates some inherent failures of solidarity. Those people “
often the socially weak “ who participate less than others in circles of gift
exchange are less likely to receive help and care from others than do people
who form part of these networks: the “Matthew effect.” Moreover, infor-
mal care and help are characterized by the restrictions of “philanthropic
particularism,” a preference to care for family and relatives more than
for other people who might require care. Reciprocal solidarity acts as a

Solidarity, Gifts, and Exclusion

principle of exclusion in these cases. These inherent failures of solidarity
are an important reason why the government can not rely too much on
informal care without risking social inequality and exclusion.

In this chapter it has been argued and empirically demonstrated that
solidarity may have negative outcomes and consequences in addition to
its positive aspects. In public and political debates on social cohesion
and solidarity it is often overlooked that solidarity is not merely bonding
but also selective and excluding. The ideological and normative uses of
the concept of solidarity frequently supersede its analytical use, causing
the more negative manifestations of solidarity to disappear from the
picture. In the theoretical model to be discussed in Chapter 9, however,
these variations of solidarity are included. An important question to be
explored in that chapter is under which conditions solidarity is selective:
does this mainly apply to the small-scale social units of family and friends,
or also to large-scale group solidarity? But ¬rst we examine the vicissitudes
of family solidarity in more detail. Is it really on the decline, as is feared
by many?


Family Solidarity

Given rising divorce rates, it comes as no surprise that people
are decreasingly happy with their marriages. . . . Given too, that
pleasure in family life is the most important contribution to
happiness and life satisfaction, here lies a major explanation of
America™s current and rising sorrow.
(Robert Lane 2000: 108)

The worst tyrants among human beings . . . are jealous hus-
bands . . . , resentful wives, [and] possessive parents . . . [in] a
scene of hatred.
(Peter Laslett 1971: 4)

In most Western countries children and the bonds between generations
are still an important source of support for older generations, but con-
cern for the continuity of this support is broadly felt. Over the past two
centuries drastic changes have occurred in the nature and extent of fam-
ily solidarity. Whereas in the absence of social security and institutions
of social welfare kin served as the most essential resource for economic
assistance and security, a gradual weakening of interdependence among
kin has occurred over time. In the past commitment to the survival and
economic well-being of the family took priority over individual needs.
Also anthropological studies suggest that “kinship dues” were tradition-
ally the main source of kinship support (Sahlins 1972). The instrumental

Family Solidarity

orientation toward family has gradually been replaced by a more indi-
vidualistic and affective orientation and a greater emphasis on individual
needs and personal happiness (Hareven 1995). This development has
raised a concern with the vitality of family bonds and intergenerational
solidarity. Demographic changes have signi¬cantly added to this concern
(Bengtson 2001). Never before have elderly people lived so long, and never
before has the younger generation been so small in number compared
with the older generations. Also the larger variation in family structure is
supposed to cause a decline in traditional family patterns and values. In-
ternational studies about cultural and other values show that the increase
of individualization is accompanied by a lower level of identi¬cation and
loyalty with the family (Inglehart 1977; Popenoe 1988).
In addition to demographic developments changes in the life course
may have an impact on family solidarity. Recent research conducted in
the Netherlands shows that the phase of childhood and adolescence has
become longer in that societal responsibility is postponed (Liefbroer and
Dykstra 2000). In adulthood the period in which one participates in paid
labor has become shorter. In the Netherlands the percentage of working
people aged between ¬fty-¬ve and sixty-four has decreased from 35% in
1975 to 28.7% in 1998 (Sociale en culturele verkenningen 1999). The phase of
old age has become prolonged because of the increased longevity. On the
one hand, an increasing number of old people will be in need of care and
support at a time when the availability of women in particular to provide
these has diminished. On the other hand, an increasing number of still
vigorous old people will be available to provide support to the younger
generation. Both of these developments may affect family solidarity.
Family solidarity is also in¬‚uenced by the wider social context of the
welfare state and its level of social security and caring arrangements.
Since their introduction Western welfare regimes incorporate an implicit
social contract between generations that is based on intergenerational as
well as intragenerational transfers of resources through the mediums of
taxation and social expenditure (Bengtson and Achenbaum 1993; Walker

Solidarity and Selectivity

1996; WRR 1999). Public pension provision and the provision of social
and health care are the core of this social contract. A similar but infor-
mal social contract specifying caring obligations and relationships exists
within the family. In both the welfare-state social contract and the im-
plied contract of generations within the family the idea of reciprocity is
quintessential. The welfare state has institutionalized the expectation of
reciprocity in its system of inter- and intragenerational transfers. Simi-
larly, Bengtson, Rosenthal, and Burton (1990) argue that the contract of
generations existing within the family “calls for the parents to invest a ma-
jor portion of their resources throughout their adult years in the rearing
of children; in old age, the care giving is expected to be reversed.” Walker
(1996) points to the many ways this microsocial contract between family
members interacts with the macrosocial one. The economic restructuring
of Western welfare states occurring since the 1970s may have profound
implications for generational relations within families, particularly when
coupled with the increase in life expectancy. Many Western welfare states
have faced cuts in social expenditure, thereby putting a higher burden
on families to provide informal care. Inversely, the gender-based caring
relationship within families is in transition, which may be consequential
for welfare-state social policy. The reduction of women™s availability as
caregivers is a new reality that has to be taken into account in social policy.
This chapter deals with family solidarity, conceived as solidarity within
the network of family and near relatives, the informal solidarity contract
existing between family members. Precisely because the family is regarded
as the breeding ground for Durkheim™s mechanical solidarity, it is inter-
esting to examine whether there are concrete indications that family soli-
darity is declining. First, the theme is positioned within the context of the
scienti¬c and societal debate about generations and their interrelation-
ships. Then some theoretical dimensions of intergenerational solidarity
are discussed, followed by an overview of empirical research results on
concrete intergenerational solidarity in the form of (beliefs about) caring
for the elderly by the younger generation. In the ¬nal section, a distinction

Family Solidarity

is made between two dimensions of intergenerational relations, the ¬rst
at the macrolevel of welfare state provisions related to family care, and
the second at the microlevel of informal care within the family itself. An
interesting question is how both levels interact with one another.

The Relationship between Generations

Relationships between generations have traditionally been a source of
great solidarity as well as ¬erce con¬‚icts. Throughout history members
of the younger generation have detested the older generation because
of their old-fashioned ideas and beliefs, their rigid attitudes, and their
inability to keep pace with the times. The aged, in turn, were faced with a
growing emotional distance from the younger generation. Mutual prej-
udice has always ¬‚ourished. Contemporary youths do not like reading
books anymore, are only interested in watching television or playing
computer games, do not feel like making any effort whatsoever, and are
materialistic and egocentric. And, in reverse, aged people have had the
better opportunities, impede the mobility of the young on the labor mar-
ket by keeping the better jobs, and reach such elevated ages that they
(will) cause an enormous rise of costs in the health care system. These
commonsense notions certainly do not offer a satisfying answer to the
question whether a serious “generation problem” exists today, as Karl
Mannheim termed it in 1928 and, if it does, what its manifestations are.
An important preliminary question is what is exactly considered a
generation. Does this concept merely indicate a macrosociological, de-
mographic category based on the year of one™s birth? Or is a generation
a historical concept, referring to a certain group of people of about the
same age, who de¬ne themselves as being the founders of new values or
the promoters of cultural, political, and social changes, like the Vietnam
generation or the baby boomers (Bengtson 1993)? Different views on this
matter exist in the scienti¬c literature. Becker (1992), for instance, con-
ceives of a generation as an age cohort occupying a particular position

Solidarity and Selectivity

in history and showing similarities at the individual level (life course,
values, behavior) as well as the structural level (magnitude, composition,
culture, and organization of the generation). When a cohort substitutes
for a former one, this substitution process is assumed to be accompanied
by a change in values, culture, and life opportunities (Inglehart 1977).
The cohort conception of generations has not only been criticized for be-
ing static but has an additional disadvantage, which has been termed the
“fallacy of cohort-centrism” (White Riley 1992, quoted in Bengtson and
Achenbaum 1993): the tendency to assume that all members of one cohort
will age in the same way. This assumption precludes the recognition of
big differences that may exist within the same cohort, as a consequence
not only of differing individual reactions to the aging process but also of
the structural in¬‚uences of, for instance, social class, gender, or ethnicity.
A totally different generation concept has been developed by the found-
ing father of the generation theory, Karl Mannheim (1950 [1928]), who
does not so much conceive of a generation as a birth cohort but rather as
a group of contemporaries who share the feeling of belonging to a certain
generation. This feeling arises as a consequence of shared experiences of
particular social and historical events that have been formative for the
course of their lives. A birth cohort, therefore, does not necessarily coin-
cide with a generation: rather than age determining a generation, it is the
shared conscience. A birth cohort may be at the roots of a generation, but a
generation in Mannheim™s sense is primarily characterized by a common
mutual identi¬cation, based on a shared fate that differs fundamentally
from that of other generations. This is a much more social-psychological
and dynamic view of generations than the statistical and static cohort
For this chapter a mixture of both generation concepts is relevant.
Not only age cohorts but also the experience of belonging to a certain
generation is important for our theme. One may have grandchildren but
at the same time feel “in the midst of life” and be active, for instance,
by having a job. A woman may be a grandparent but also be sportive,

Family Solidarity

socially active, and have a circle of friends. Although she belongs to the
cohort of the third generation, she feels and behaves as if she were young
and is, in that sense, comparable with the members of younger gener-
ations. The structure of generations has fundamentally changed during
the second half of the twentieth century. More generations have become
involved in families. Whereas in former times a family was composed of
at most two or three generations due to the shorter life expectancy, nowa-
days it is not exceptional that four generations are in good health and
are contributing somehow to family life. We do not know exactly what
the implications of these changes for family solidarity are, but the situ-
ation has certainly become different from the one that prevailed during
the largest part of the twentieth century when the nuclear family was the
main family unit. Everything revolved around father, mother, and the
children and, whether you liked it or not, you were dependent on them
for your physical and social survival. Even though the nuclear family is
still an important anchor and social unit for many people, its importance
seems to be diminishing in favor of multigenerational bonds (Bengtson
Traditionally, the exchange of money, goods, and services has been
an important aspect of familial solidarity, in particular as expressed in
solidarity between generations. For centuries families have played an im-
portant economic role in the lives of individual citizens. Until the era of
industrialization the family was the most important unit of production;
individual survival depended on economic cooperation within the family.
Today economic exchange between family members is no longer a vital
precondition for individual survival. Nevertheless, people™s well-being
still depends largely on the exchange of goods and services with other
persons. A substantial part of that exchange continues to occur within
the family, among and between generations. In the past two decades, the
family is believed to have lost its signi¬cance as “a haven in a heartless
world” (Lasch 1977). As a consequence of a variety of factors, includ-
ing women™s increased participation in the labor market, their greater

Solidarity and Selectivity

economic independence, the liberalization of norms and values, and the
increased divorce rate, the family may have lost its former cohesion and
original signi¬cance. Is there any empirical support for these beliefs?

Family Solidarity: Empirical Research

Dimensions of Family Solidarity

The classical sociologists have left their traces in the literature on inter-
generational solidarity. T¨ nnies™s distinction between Gemeinschaft and
Gesellschaft (1987) and Durkheim™s theory about mechanical and organic
solidarity (1964a [1893]) are based on two elements that have in¬‚uenced
theoretical ideas about intergenerational solidarity: on the one hand, the
internalized normative obligations toward the group (mechanical soli-
darity, Gemeinschaft) and, on the other, the functional interdependency
of and consensus among group members about the rules of exchange
(organic solidarity, Gesellschaft ; Roberts, Richards, and Bengtson 1991).
The ¬rst conceptualizations of family solidarity originated in social
psychology. In the 1950s social psychologists started to research group dy-
namics in the laboratory, especially the characteristics of internal group
cohesion. The contribution of Homans (1950), for instance, focused on
those elements of human interaction presumed to be determinants of
group solidarity. He distinguished between “interaction” or the degree
of mutual connectedness of the actions of group members (Durkheim™s
functional dependency), “extendedness” of group activities, degree of
mutual affection, and norms concerning group membership and activi-
ties. The greater the interaction, mutual affection, and shared norms and
commitment to the group, the more cohesion the group would show. An-
other social psychologist, Heider (1958), added the degree of resemblance
among group members to the factors listed by Homans. In addition to
having frequent contact, also shared interests and norms contribute to
group cohesion.

Family Solidarity

These contributions are re¬‚ected in the work of the contemporary
American family sociologist Bengtson. In a recent article (2001) he
summarizes the solidarity model developed by him and his colleagues
(Bengtson and Mangen 1988; Bengtson and Roberts 1991; Roberts
et al. 1991). The model consists of six dimensions of intergenerational
solidarity: affectual solidarity (how people feel about their relation-
ships), associational solidarity (type and frequency of contact), consen-
sual solidarity (agreement in opinions and values), functional solidarity
(assistance), normative solidarity (expectations regarding family obli-
gations, familistic values), and structural solidarity (opportunity struc-
ture for interaction, geographical proximity). Using longitudinal data,
Bengtson and his colleagues have been able to chart the course of in-
tergenerational solidarity over time. Between 1971 and 1997 they found
remarkably stable patterns of affectual solidarity in the United States: high
levels of emotional bonding across generations have remained intact over
the years, according to Bengtson.
Bengtson™s typology of solidarity dimensions has given rise to exten-
sive empirical research. One of the questions posed by researchers con-
cerns the relationship between the dimensions of solidarity. Despite the
original hopes of detecting one underlying construct of solidarity, only
associational, functional, and structural solidarity show substantial inter-
correlation, and these dimensions, in turn, prove unrelated to affectional
solidarity. In the absence of a theoretical model specifying the causal rela-
tionships between the concept of family solidarity and its indicators, each
dimension has been studied separately. In their overview of empirical re-
search Roberts et al. (1991) mention, among others, the following results.
Normative intergenerational solidarity has been found to be stronger
when parental income is lower. Affectional solidarity is related to age and
gender and is stronger among members of older generations and women
(mothers and daughters). Associational solidarity has also been found
to be higher among women, probably re¬‚ecting their “kinkeeping” role.
Among divorced parents, as well as among people living in an urban

Solidarity and Selectivity

setting and those with higher education, associational solidarity seems
to be lower. Probably because functional solidarity or the exchange of
help and care is relatively easy to study empirically, studies assessing the
conditions under which assistance ¬‚ows both up and down generational
lines in the family are abundant (Cheal 1983; Mangen et al. 1988; Roberts
et al. 1991). Functional solidarity appears to be positively correlated with
higher income and education and with marital status.
There are several problems connected to Bengtson™s typology. For in-
stance, some of the dimensions, in particular associational and functional
solidarity, seem to be partly overlapping; helping a family member neces-
sarily means having contact and seeing him or her. Second, no attempt is
made to develop a theoretical model in which the causal relationships be-
tween the dimensions and the putative construct of family solidarity are
speci¬ed. In Bengtson™s view family solidarity seems to be the sum of the
dimensions, which implies a certain level of internal consistency between
them. Empirical research has not con¬rmed this, though. Moreover, the
nature of the causal relationships between the dimensions themselves
is not clear. Geographical proximity (structural solidarity) is clearly a
constraining (or enabling) factor where associational and functional sol-
idarity are concerned and, in that sense, is at a different causal level. A
third problem is that none of the dimensions has been studied in any
depth, so that no progress is made to arrive at a better theoretical under-
standing of the complex and multifaceted concept of family solidarity.
A study done by the American sociologists Alice and Peter Rossi (1990),
however, has attempted to investigate these aspects of family solidarity in
greater detail.

The Nature of Family Ties

The Rossis made use of Bengtson™s dimensions of family solidarity in
a study of 323 parents and 287 adult children. Focusing their analysis
on associational, functional, affectional, and consensual solidarity they

Family Solidarity

found substantial correlations between contact frequency (associational
solidarity) and help exchange (functional solidarity). Also, a relationship
between value consensus (consensual solidarity) and affective closeness
(affectional solidarity) showed up. A lack of connection was found be-
tween contact frequency and value consensus. Apparently, some degree
of interaction is socially expected and occurs regardless of a consensus
about core values among parents and children. Neither was there a sub-
stantial relationship between help exchange and value consensus; help
exchange occurs independently of the subjective feelings of children and
parents toward each other.
The Rossis™ research demonstrates that only two sets of the dimen-
sions of family solidarity as distinguished by Bengtson show consistent
and substantial correlations: functional solidarity (help exchange) and
associational solidarity (contact frequency), and consensual (value con-
sensus) and affectional solidarity (affective closeness). That connections
are found between help exchange and contact frequency is somewhat
of a tautology, as was said earlier. Also the relationship between shared
values and mutual affection does not come as a surprise, because having
similar ideas on religious and political matters is an important (though
not necessarily the only or the most important) precondition to mutual
liking and emotional closeness.
The main motivational base for providing assistance to parents or adult
children seems to be internalized norms of obligation. That is probably
the reason why the Rossis devote two chapters of their book to this issue.
The structure of these norms appears to be systematically patterned:
not the type of the kin person but the degree of relatedness of ego to
the various kin types was what mattered most. Children and parents
take priority over all other kin; siblings are the next in the hierarchy of
felt obligations, followed by grandchildren and grandparents. Still less
obligation was felt to nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles.
As to the affectivity dimension the Rossis report evidence of the con-
tinuing effects of early family experiences on current relations between

Solidarity and Selectivity

parents and adult children. Similar characteristics were transmitted from
one generation to the next. For instance, the quality of the parents™ mar-
riage was echoed in the marital happiness of adult children. A more
global quality of family life “ family cohesion “ was also transmitted
cross-generationally: happy, cooperative, interesting families tended to
breed families with similar characteristics themselves. Gender remains a
very signi¬cant factor in family life. Women keep playing a central role,
not only in the organization of the household and in child rearing but
also in the emotional climate of the family. Value consensus had an im-
portant impact on the affective tone of parent-child relations. Dissensus
in core values (religion, politics, general outlook on life) depressed the
emotional closeness of parents and adult children.
As regards the next dimension, social interaction, the Rossis conclude
that their respondents had widespread access to both their own parents
and to their adult children. Apparently adult children did not move far
away from their parents in most cases. The access pro¬le is re¬‚ected in
the contact between generations: from a third to almost half of the adult
children saw a parent at least once a week; one in ¬ve adult daughters had
daily phone contact with her mother. Most respondents were satis¬ed
with this contact frequency and, if they were not, they overwhelmingly
preferred more rather than less contact (often because one feels one
“should” have more contact). Whereas distance represented the major
factor affecting the frequency of interaction between mothers and adult
children, the quality of the relationship with fathers was even more of
an in¬‚uence than sheer opportunity. Family size, in particular of the
parental generation (the number of children the parents had) but also
of the younger generation (the number of their own children), reduced
social interaction between individual members of different generations.
Accessibility of the generations (Bengtson™s “structural solidarity”) is,
of course, the fundament for both interaction and help exchange. Gen-
der differences were found, not only in social interaction but also in help



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