How concerns for younger relatives bridge generational divides
This new report, Family Matters: How concerns for younger relatives bridge generational divides, investigates people’s attitudes towards intergenerational inequalities in economic wellbeing, as well as public policies that might help to reduce them.
The report draws upon data from an original survey, ‘Intergenpol-GB’, of 6,021 adults (including over 4,000 aged 40 and above). Using innovative survey questions about family members, the wellbeing of different age groups, and specific policy proposals, we develop a series of arguments regarding the role of family ties in people’s policy preferences and electoral choices in modern Britain.
This research was funded by a British Academy Innovation Grant, and was designed by the Nuffield Politics Research Centre, Nuffield College, Oxford. It was fielded by YouGov in August 2022. It is, to the best of our knowledge, the first in-depth inter-generationally focused political survey of its kind.
In collaboration with Molly Broome, Sophie Hale and Lord David Willetts, Resolution Foundation.
This new report, Family Matters: How concerns for younger relatives bridge generational divides, investigates people’s attitudes towards intergenerational inequalities in economic wellbeing, as well as public policies that might help to reduce them. The authors place a special emphasis on the opinions of middle-aged (40-59) and older (60+) Britons, who make up an ever-growing proportion of the national electorate. It shows who, within these older groups, is sympathetic to the difficulties facing younger adults and supports state investment in them. This sympathy and support is shown to derive from family ties which motivate older adults to support policies that benefit younger generations, and punish parties whose policies do not.
Our report draws upon data from an original survey, ‘Intergenpol-GB’, of 6,021 adults (including over 4,000 aged 40 and above). Using innovative survey questions about family members, the wellbeing of different age groups, and specific policy proposals, we develop a series of arguments regarding the role of family ties in people’s policy preferences and electoral choices in modern Britain. This research was funded by a British Academy Innovation Grant, and was designed by the Nuffield Politics Research Centre, Nuffield College, Oxford. It was fielded by YouGov in August 2022. It is, to the best of our knowledge, the first in-depth inter-generationally focused political survey of its kind.
Previous research by the Resolution Foundation revealed that young people today are struggling to match lifecycle milestones that earlier generations enjoyed, such as a secure job and a home that they own. Evidence suggests that it is young adults who are most likely to be struggling to pay their bills during the ongoing cost of living crisis. Recent polling indicates that, in contrast to the 2010s, voters’ main concerns increasingly revolve around economic issues rather than cultural ones. Our report therefore provides a timely investigation of how economic precarity experienced by the younger generation might start to have a greater impact on British politics.
Our findings question a simple assumption that age groups have diametrically opposing economic interests, or that the growing segment of older voters would oppose efforts to improve the outcomes of younger generations. We investigate several important areas of interest including; peoples’ perceptions of intergenerational inequality; the number of people that have relatives who are struggling financially and the impact of these family connections; how people with struggling relatives think about different government policies; and how the voting intention of people with struggling relatives is different.
We found that 17% of the electorate – equivalent to nearly 8 million potential voters – are both over-forty and have young adult relatives that are struggling financially. This ‘hidden electorate’ is at risk of being overlooked despite being, by comparison, roughly twice the size of the total population of the ‘Red Wall’.  We suggest that both major political parties might appeal to these newly identified ‘family fortunes voters’ by promising to improve the financial wellbeing of their loved ones. This offers a way to avoid seeing politics and electoral appeals as a zero-sum game between different age-groups. Rather, older voters may support parties who also offer greater support to their younger family members, and parties could appeal across the age distribution by considering the role of family ties in people’s policy preferences and electoral choices.
Our research reveals some important new insights into public opinion on Britain’s economic generational disparities (as of August 2022):
- Over half of under 40s (51%) believe that they will have worse living standards over their lifetimes than their parents.
- 59% of adults aged 40-59, and 45% of adults over 60, believe that current younger generations are worse-off financially than both middle-aged (40-59) and older (60+) adults.
- Around one in four people aged 40 and over (24%), including one in five people over 60 (19%), have close relatives in their twenties and thirties that they think are struggling financially, a higher rate than have struggling family members aged 40-59 (15%) or 60+ (15%).
- Almost one in three people aged 40-59 (32%) and 60+ (31%) thought it likely that they themselves would need to give significant financial or practical support to their younger family members within the next decade.
- Majorities of those aged 60 and over support increased spending on policies aimed at young adults (even at the cost of higher taxes) with more free vocational education (65% support) and local affordable housing (61% support) being most popular. Support is similarly strong among those aged 40-59 (60% and 56%, respectively).
- Among adults aged 60 and over with younger family members that are struggling financially, support for spending on vocational education and increasing affordable housing locally is 9 percentage points higher than average for their age group. Similar results are found for middle-aged people, as well as for other policies such as free childcare.
- Older adults with financially struggling younger family members are 13 percentage points less likely to support the Conservatives, and 9 percentage points more likely to support Labour, than the average person of their age. For those in their forties and fifties these gaps are 7 and 5 percentage points, respectively.
- Differences in support for policies and parties between those with better or worse off younger relatives cannot be explained by differences in the financial wellbeing of these older and middle-aged adults themselves.
These new insights are useful for bridging oft-cited generational divides in British politics and society, and ultimately provide part of the answer to moving towards a greater generational consensus in dealing with Britain’s age-based disparities. The mostly small divisions between old and young on attitudes to spending on housing, childcare, and education might help to explain why other researchers have generally found that the generations are more divided on questions of culture and identity than on classic ‘left-right’ economic issues of tax and spending.
Most importantly, our findings should give pause to any policy-maker or politician concluding that generations will only support and vote for policies that are in their age-specific self-interest. Through a combination of family connection, concern and heightened awareness for younger family members’ economic experiences, sizeable proportions of the older generations are aware of intergenerational economic disparities and are motivated to support policies that do something about them. A substantial minority of older voters may well be motivated in the next general election to support parties and policies that help out the young.
 The ONS (2021c) estimate that the 42 parliamentary constituencies in the English north and midlands that were identified as part of the Red Wall by James Kangasooriam (Kangasoorium and Simon 2021) had a combined population of 4.1 million, as of mid-2020.