Solidarity and tension between age-groups in the United States: Challenge for an aging America in the 21st century

M. Silverstein, T. M. Parrott, J. J. Angelelli, F. L. Cook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


In this article, we argue that intergenerational tensions in the United States reflect a strategy for serving the aged that stresses the underlying values of individualism and selfreliance. Using national survey data, we examine the extent to which Americans' view of public responsibility for the aged has shifted between the mid-1980s and late-1990s, a period characterized by the intensification of "generational" politics, as well as a growing hostility toward "big government." We consider four factors that may be responsible for the escalation of intergenerational tensions as they are manifest in the erosion of public support for programs and policies serving the elderly: (1) Declining intergenerational solidarity with the aged;(2) Increasing concerns over age-inequity in public programs; (3) Increasing concerns over resource-inequity in public programs; and (4) Increasing opposition to big government. Results indicate that the public has generally grown more apprehensive about the value and costs of government programs serving both the elderly and the poor. Yet, the fact that Social Security enjoys far more support than social programs serving the poor suggests that the elderly are perceived as more deserving of their benefits than other dependent groups in society. The public also appears increasingly reluctant to redistribute old age benefits according to need. Age-group contrasts revealed little evidence of direct tension between the generations. The results suggest that growing distrust of government and reluctance to help the poor has indirectly fueled opposition to public spending on the older population. Proposed changes to programs and policies affecting the elderly will need to take into account the ambivalence felt by many Americans toward a government they expect to make good on its promise to care for all older citizens, but to use fewer resources in doing so.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)270-284
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Social Welfare
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Age-group conflict
  • Aging policy
  • American public policy
  • Intergenerational relations
  • Political attitudes
  • Social Security
  • Welfare reform

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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