Young people actually do not mind paying for the older generation

June 23, 2015 | 2 min read

It is often believed that young people do not want to pay for care for the older generation. But that is not true, says Professor Ferry Koster, although there are some conditions that must be met.

Image: © Nationale Beeldbank

The sustainability of participatory society stands or falls on the solidarity between different sections of the population, for example, between the young and the old. It is often claimed that young people choose for themselves and that they do not want to help pay for the the older generation's pension, for example. The older generation, on the other hand, worries about the care to which they are entitled. It would seem that a conflict of the generations has developed over the recent years, in which the young and the old are diametrically opposed to one another. 

The results of the research project called “Solidarity in the 21st century,” funded by Instituut GAK (Industrial Insurance Administration Office) shows that the young and the old indeed show solidarity with each other. That outcome is important to the debate about the sustainability of the welfare state. Current discussions focus mainly on financial sustainability, but social sustainability is just as important. When I talk to the young and the elderly they both agree with this assessment. Instead of a clear-cut standoff between the young and the old, the situation is much more nuanced than is sometimes thought.

Positive solidarity

In the study, solidarity is defined as positive solidarity. The study examined various attitudes and behaviors among people. One form of solidarity may in fact decrease, while another form would increase. Citizens may, for example, express solidarity by providing direct assistance (private solidarity), while preferring not to pay for the welfare state (public solidarity). Or, someone shows solidarity and expects something in return (unilateral solidarity) or the giver expects something in return at a later date (two-sided solidarity). 

Research into these different forms of solidarity demonstrates that the young do indeed show solidarity with the elderly. However, a number of preconditions should be met for that. It is, for example, important that other people should also participate. Young people express solidarity especially when others contribute too. Moreover, it also helps solidarity between groups when the other group does something in return or at least does not take it for granted. Another important condition is that the person organizing the solidarity (a third party such as the government) should be a reliable party. As soon as trust is lost, it is very difficult to recover it. Just look at the damage caused by the uncertainty over the share claimed by the initiators of the Alpes d’HuZes charity (in Dutch only).


Although it is often thought that transparency is a good thing, it turns out to be different in practice. Transparency means that as a donor you know where the money is going, and then it is also possible that the money is going where citizens do not want it to go. The downside of transparency is therefore that support may disappear for the entire system. That does not mean, however, that transparency is not a good thing as long as you keep in mind that it might fuel calculating behavior. 

In recent years we have witnessed a shift from public solidarity to private solidarity. Municipalities and other semi-public organizations are now having to consider a different design of the welfare system. An important question is whether that change has not been initiated too soon by the government. That citizens are given more responsibility does not mean that the government cannot play a role, even when it comes to private solidarity. Citizens do feel responsibility for each other and do want to take care of the other party, but a government must give them time to help organize it well. We can still gain much there to make the participatory society a success. 

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