The gender dimension of intergenerational transfers in Europe

By | May 28, 2019

Men and women differ considerably in their roles as providers and recipients of intergenerational transfers. Because of their higher income, men finance a higher share of public transfers to the elderly generation and of the consumption needs of children. In contrast, women carry out more unpaid work for children and other household members. The lower contributions to the public transfer system result in lower yearly pensions for women. However, because of higher female life expectancy and lower retirement ages, women are net receivers of public transfers for a much longer period than men.

In our paper we use cross-section data on intergenerational transfers in 16 European countries to give an overview of the gendered dimension of intergenerational transfers. In particulare we aim at answering the following questions: (1) How large are gender differences in net intergenerational transfers over lifetime when all type of transfers are considered, including transfers in form of unpaid work. (2) Does the public transfer system advantage men or women when life expectancy is taken into account?

Data and methodology

Our analysis is based on European National Transfer Accounts (NTA) data. NTAs consist of gender-specific age profiles, containing the per-capita averages of income, transfer payments and benefits, consumption and saving by age. So-called National Time Transfer Accounts (NTTAs) are based on time use data and complement the basic NTA system with estimates of production, transfers and consumption of services that are produced by unpaid work.

Three types of transfers can be distinguished in NTAs and NTTAs: (i) public transfers, (ii) private market transfers, consisting of monetary transfers and of goods and services bought on the market that are provided to other household members, mostly to children; and (iii) private non-market transfers, which consist mainly of services produced by unpaid work for other household members. 

Figure 1 plots age-specific per-capita averages of net transfers by type and gender in the EU‑15. Positive values indicate net transfer benefits, negative values net transfer contributions. The most important type of transfers for children is the time of their parents. For elderly persons the most important type of transfers are public transfers. The peak in providing transfers is at ages 35 to 40, when a large share of the population devotes time and income to their own children.

Figure 1: Age and gender-specific transfers by type. Simple average of 16 countries in 2010.

We generate a gender-specific measure of net transfers that a hypothetical individual pays and receives over his or her entire life time, given the age-specific transfer pattern in 2010. The measure is based on a thought experiment. It is assumed that the age- and gender-specific patterns of transfers observed in 2010 correspond to the life course patterns of a hypothetical male and female individual. Furthermore, it is assumed that these individuals face mortality rates corresponding to the age- and gender-specific rates observed in 2010 (Eurostat 2017).


While lifetime transfers across the EU‑15 are gender-balanced on average, we find considerable differences between genders in single countries. In Spain, Italy and Slovenia, women contribute considerably more to intergenerational transfers than men. The explanation is the considerably larger amount of time devoted to work (including paid and unpaid work) of women in these countries. In Austria, Germany, Sweden and the UK, we find considerably higher net contributions of men, compared to women. These countries are characterised by large net public contributions of men in working age and moderate non-market contributions of women. 

From a gender perspective particularly interesting are the public transfers in old age. We decompose total public benefits received in old age in a level component and a duration component. In most countries women receive lower yearly public benefits in old age. However, because of the higher female life expectancy and their longer retirement period, the total net public benefits received in old age are higher for women in all countries except Austria. Given the age-specific net transfers and mortality rates observed in 2010, the average number of years that men live as net beneficiaries of public transfers is about 16 in the analysed countries. Women, however, can expect to live 23 years as net beneficiaries.

Hammer, B., Spitzer, S., Vargha, L., & Istenič, T. (2019). The Gender Dimension of Intergenerational Transfers in Europe. VID Working Paper 07/2019