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The Moral Economy of Intergenerational Redistribution in an Ageing Society: A Qualitative Analysis of Young Adults' Beliefs in the United States

Katrin Prinzen (2016)


In the USA, the largest generation, the Baby Boomers, is currently retiring and increasingly drawing from Old Age Social Security. In this context, young generations are said to be disadvantaged: they have to support a growing number of pensioners while expecting much lower pensions themselves. Drawing on 14 original semi-structured interviews with young US citizens aged 20–36, this study analyzes the moral economy of intergenerational redistribution – defined as normative beliefs and justifications of a just distribution of contributions and benefits between generations. The qualitative content analysis resorts to the four constituent institutional principles of intergenerational redistribution:deservingness (being qualified to receive support), reciprocity (mutual support between generations), equity (relation between in- and outputs for one generation) and equality (corresponding conditions for different generations). The first main finding is that the young hold multiple normative beliefs in favour of intergenerational redistribution. The second main finding is that different normative beliefs and justifications can compensate for feelings of injustice attributable to the consequences of an ageing society. The qualitative findings' contributions to the field of study that is dominated by quantitative studies are concluded. Implications for public support for intergenerational redistribution in the ageing society of the USA and other countries are discussed.