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Generational differences at the core of new "Social Report"

Generational differences at the core of new "Social Report"

Several LIVES researchers got involved, under the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, into the editing and writing of this fourth edition, which was launched on October 23, 2012 in German and French.

There is no open conflict but huge cultural differences between generations, and strong forms of intergenerational solidarity, however, within the family. This is the conclusion of the Social Report 2012, an extensive analysis conducted by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, in collaboration with several LIVES researchers. A press conference to inaugurate this work happened on Tuesday 23rd of October at Berne with the editors, organized by the Swiss National Science Foundation, which is funding the project.

The Social Report periodic reports every four years since 2000. This publication, originally created by Christian Suter, professor of sociology at the University of Neuchâtel, has since been institutionalized by FORS, with a different theme at each edition.

An ongoing debate

In a country where the percentage of those aged less than 20 is one of the lowest in Europe, the question of generations has become an issue, following research by the National Research Program (NRP) 52, which had concluded in 2008 that conflicts between generations are virtually non-existent, although they continue to generate  discussions.

Among the editors of the Social Report 2012, Felix Bühlmann, Peter Farago, François Höpflinger, Dominique Joye, and Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello are members of LIVES, while René Levy is part of its Advisory Board. They wrote some of the articles of the book and oversaw the rest with Christian Suter and Céline Schmid Botkin of FORS, who is responsible editor with Felix Bühlmann.

Differences in behavior

Working on the basis of data and indicators from major Swiss and international surveys, including longitudinal and transversal studies, the authors observed differences in behavior between three age groups (18-39, 40-59, 60 and over) in the various dimensions of society (distribution of social goods, cultural diversity, social inclusion, political regulation, society and environment).

The researchers found that intergenerational links are nowadays absent of friendly and professional relationships but remain very strong in the family, which combines more generations than in the past. The contemporary family is indeed less horizontal (less brothers, sisters, cousins) but more vertical (more grandparents and great-grandparents present) than in the past.

Intergenerational solidarity

Intergenerational solidarity is thus a reality only in the family circle. Many adults today take care either of an elderly parent, of grandchildren, or both. At the financial level and still within the kinship, there is a great place for money transfers between generations, through donations and legacies. Outside the family, few relations exist between the groups of age, separated by cultural gaps, be they religious befief, music tastes or sport practices, for example.

Some surprises

Some findings are surprising. Thus, contrary to the popular belief, the 18-39 age group is not less interested in the political debate than the elders. Young people are even more active than their parents' generation was in the 70s, and this participation takes more alternative forms, marked by narrow focus themes, informality, short-term, and a mix between private and public spheres.

Another curiosity, if young people are more concerned about environmental issues, their behaviors are less green than those of seniors. There is a "generational paradox between thought and action," write the authors, which may be explained partly by the mobility imposed by modernity and, on the other hand, by the specific socialization of those aged more than 60, which was driven more by economics than ecology.

Youth’s and elders’ mistrust

Also worth being mentioned is the issue of mistrust between the generations. If seniors have more concerns in Switzerland than elsewhere regarding young people’s threat to public order, the young in turn denounce injustice and lack of respect they feel being victims, especially in the access to employment. The situation of older, however, is not much better in the world of work, but the idea prevails that older workers are better protected by the welfare state, as they will soon receive their retirement pension.

The authors conclude that "certain essential functions of our society - such as the transmission of knowledge or mutual aid in times of vulnerability and dependence - can be fulfilled only if exchange exists between generations and continues ." They underline, however, that "solidarity between generations is (also) a class solidarity "and that "gender, education or income are often more important than our age or belonging to a generation. " Analysis can not be abstracted from these other factors, which are set in a "cumulative or compensatory logic".


Felix Bühlmann, Céline Schmid Botkine, Peter Farago, François Höpflinger, Dominique Joye, René Levy, Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello, Christian Suter (éds): Rapport social 2012: Générations en jeu. Editions Seismo, Zurich 2012, 332 p.