Trail-blazers and path-followers
Families are often described as the primary social units, the ‘building blocks’ of society. The processes by which members of each generation achieve social status in their own right, therefore, begin in the everyday life of the family of origin, and continue through the education system, the labour market and other social institutions. Family members may be involved in the intergenerational transmission not only of wealth, but also of social and cultural capital in the form of skills, social networks, aspirations and values (Bertaux and Thompson 1997). Young people as they grow up may draw heavily on family resources such as these, if they can, to help them become established in the adult world. If the concept of a ‘generational contract’ exists at all outside its construction in social science, then perhaps one clause in the contract is that parents should not only ‘want the best’ for their children, but that they should contribute to this end. This contribution could be seen as an instrumental act: an investment which pays dividends when the parents become older and need care themselves. The ‘generational contract’ is potentially reciprocal over time.