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Generational Equity - An Alternative Formulation Of Generational Equity

age aging social generations children social age

There is no dispute that America's older citizens receive the lion's share of the income, in cash and in services, that the nation's federal social programs distribute. In 2001, expenditures on the elderly amounted to roughly a third of the entire federal budget (U.S. Office of Management and Budget). But this fact does not imply inequity. That is because the size and distribution of the burdens imposed by children and elderly persons differ. For the most part, parents bear the daily living expenses of children. Their educational costs are borne mostly by state and local governments. The health and income support costs of poor children are shared by the states and the federal government. In contrast, large portions of the income support and health costs of the elderly are borne by the federal government through the Social Security, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income programs. Thus, as the population ages, the fiscal responsibility of supporting the economically inactive population shifts from families to governments and, within the public sector, from states and localities to the federal government. As Norman Daniels has argued, "Justice between age groups is a problem best solved if we stop thinking of the old and the young as distinct groups. We age. The young become the old. As we age, we pass through institutions that affect our well-being at each stage of life, from infancy to very old age" (p. 18).

From a life course perspective, it follows that an alternative formulation of generational equity is generational interdependence. Kingson et al. discuss the "ties that bind" generations together and stress the high degree of interdependence between individuals and between generations within society. This view emphasizes what different generations have to offer one another as opposed to what one consumes at the expense of the other (Williamson et al.). Such contributions include transfers of income, child care support, personal assistance, formal volunteering, psychological support, and advice.

In line with the notion of generational inter-dependence, Robert Ball describes Social Security (i.e., Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance) as "America's family protection plan" (p. 11). By this, he means it protects children with the survivors component, working adults under sixty-five with the disability component, and elderly adults with the retirement component. He notes that 98 percent of children under eighteen and mothers and fathers with children under sixteen can count on monthly benefits if a working parent dies; that four out of five people of working age have protection against the loss of income due to sustained disability; and that 95 percent of people sixty-five and older are eligible for Social Security benefits (p. xv).

What of the future? Is generational equity likely to continue as an issue? It is always hard to predict which issues will rise or fall in salience on the agendas of scholars, policy makers, and the media. However, based on the period since the mid-1980s, it would seem that generational equity will continue to be an issue as long as one side or the other in the debate for attention to the reform of social policies and programs thinks its cause is forwarded more by attempts to pit one age group against another than by attempts to find common ground in pursuing the needs of both the elderly and the young.

FAY LOMAX COOK

BIBLIOGRAPHY

BALL, R. Insuring the Essentials. New York: The Century Foundation, 2000.

COOK, F. L. and BARRETT, E. J. Support for the American Welfare State: The View of Congress and the Public. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

COOK, F. L.; MARSHAL, V. W.; MARSHALL, J. G.; and KAUFMAN, J. E. "The Salience of Intergenerational Equity in Canada" In Economic Security and Intergenerational Justice: A Look at North America. Edited by Theodore R. Marmor, Timothy M. Smeeding, and Vernon L. Green. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute Press, 1994.

DANIELS, N. Am I My Parents' Keeper? An Essay on Justice Between the Young and the Old. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Generations United. Promoting Cooperation Among Americans of All Ages. Washington, D.C.: Generations United, 1990.

Generations United. "Generations United Mission." Together: The Generations United Newsletter 6, no. 1 (2001): 19.

KINGSON, E. R.; HIRSHORN, B. A.; and CORNMAN, J. M. Ties That Bind: The Interdependence of Generations. Washington, D.C.: Seven Locks Press, 1986.

KINGSON, E. R., and WILLIAMSON, J. B. "Why Privatizing Social Security Is a Bad Idea." In The Generational Equity Debate. Edited by John B. Williams, Diane M. Watts-Roy, and Eric R. Kingston. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

NEUGARTEN, B. L. "Patterns of Aging: Past, Present, and Future." Social Service Review 47, no. 4 (1973): 571–580.

PALMER, J.; SMEEDING, T.; and TORREY, B. B., eds. The Vulnerable. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute Press, 1988.

PEARLSTEIN, S. "The Battle over 'Generational Equity': Powerful Spending, Tax Choices Have the Young Calling for the Old to Get Less." Washington Post February 17, 1993, p. F1.

PRESTON, S. H. "Children and the Elderly." U.S. Scientific American 25, no. 6 (1984): 44–49.

PRESTON, S. H. "Children and the Elderly: Divergent Paths for America's Dependent." Demography 21, no. 4 (1984): 435–457.

QUADAGNO, J. "Generational Equity and the Politics of the Welfare State." Politics and Society 17, no. 3 (1989): 353–376.

WILLIAMSON, J. B.; WATTS-ROY, D. M.; and KINGSON, E. R., eds. The Generational Equity Debate. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

U.S. Office of Management and Budget. Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2002. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2001.

University of Michigan. National Election Studies: Pre-Post-Election Study Dataset. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, Center for Political Studies, 2001.

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