Intergenerational Transfer of Poverty and Welfare – Causes and Consequences (Excerpt)

Roma poverty; traditional dwelling

Abstract: In this article, we analyze the phenomenon of intergenerational transfer of poverty and welfare. We try to identify and describe the influences causing it. We also bilance the attempts at reducing the problem of poverty.

The full text of the article is available in Slovak.


At the beginning, we should state that we will deal with poverty affecting two or more consecutive generations. In contrast, situational poverty is only temporary and caused by social events such as the death of a loved one, sickness, divorce, etc. A group of people in intergenerational poverty overlaps significantly with the group of problem families which, according to Matoušek (2005), can be characterized as families dealing with long-term interconnected problems such as criminality, substance abuse, unemployment, prostitution, unwanted or premature pregnancies, truancy, personality and other mental disorders, etc.

Moore (2001) in his theoretical framework of inter-generational transfer of poverty and welfare in developed countries states that the following is usually transferred from parents to children:

  • Financial/material capital: insurance, pension, inheritance, dowry...
  • Human capital: care and attention; investments into education, trainings, health, nutrition; konwledge and practical life skills; sicknesses, disorders or other hereditary health conditions;
  • Environmental capital: the quality of the life space environment;
  • Socio-cultural capital: traditions, value system (culture of poverty/welfare);
  • Socio-political capital: influence in the community, membership in political and civil organizations, contacts with influential people, etc.

In Slovakia, education is on the rise. Between the generations of parents and children, a one-step rise in education is typical (47,9% of mothers with incomplete elementary education have children with secondary school education (without school-leaving exam); 41% of mothers with complete elementary education have children with secondary education with school-leaving exam).

Despite this, an inter-generational transfer of education from parents to children can clearly be noted. For example, if the mother has incomplete elementary education, only in 17,7% of cases does her child reach secondary school with secondary school-leaving exam and only in 1% of cases a college-level education. Children of mothers with secondary school-leaving exam have in the worst-case scenario only a secondary school education without school-leaving exam (only in 13,2% of cases) and college-level educated mothers have children with secondary education without school-leaving exam in only 8,3% of cases (Bodnárová et al., 2006).

According to the 2003 PISA national report, inter-generational transfer of school success is also evident. Less educated parents have children with a lower proficiency in mathematics and natural sciences (Bodnárová et al., 2010).

Parents with higher education devote more time to the upbringing of children: they play with and read to them more often, they go out, visit cultural events, do sports, keep track of their school results, etc. Children of parents with higher education spend more time reading, less time watching television and playing computer games. They also visit cinema, theater and sport events more often (Kratochvíla, 2006).

According to the results of a representative study (Popper et al., 2009), 23,7% of Roma have an incomplete elementary education and only 41,2% have complete elementary education. A not insignificant part of the Roma is illiterate (Filadelfiová et al., 2006).

In the school year 1989/1990, records of schoolchildren were still kept based on ethnicity. In that time, 64,3% of all schoolchildren in special schools were Roma (Tomatová, 2004). Since then, the situation remains essentially unchanged.

When analyzing the similarities in human couples we can note that partners are most similar in religion, ethnicity, race, social and economic status, age and political opinions. The second highest correlation coefficient is related to personality and intelligence (Diamond, 2004).

From the table b10 in the document Migration of Population in the Slovak Republic, published by the Statistical Office of the Slovak Republic (ŠÚ SR, 2010d) we find out that in 62,2% of marriages the partners were identical in the level of education, and in 95,5% of the couples, the difference in level of education was one level or less.

Couples with lower education having children are much more predisposed to dysfunction. Research of the causes of removing children from their biological families by legal authority conducted in the first half-year of 2006 shows the following results (Mikloško, Žarnay, 2008):

  • 16% of mothers from whom the children were taken had incomplete elementary education, 54 % had complete elementary education, only 15 % had secondary-school education and 0 % had college-level education;
  • 52 % of mothers were characterized as long-term unemployed, 23% of mothers were on maternal leave;
  • the education and employment levels were a bit higher in the fathers;
  • approximately a half of all the children removed had features characteristic of the Roma population;
  • in 16% of cases the paternity of the child was indeterminate;
  • mothers who were in the past confined to institutional care had a 53 times greater probability that their child will be taken.

In families living in poverty not creating the conditions needed for a healthy biopsychosocial development of children, long-term socially undesirable phenomena are accumulated much more.

In Slovakia, the inter-generational transfer and problematic families significantly overlap with the Roma.

One of the most serious social pathologies is criminality – also higher in the Roma. Partial statistics are provided by Heretik (1993), Kuchar (1995) or Krajniak (2010). According to UNDP (2002), 40% of people in jail were of Roma ethnicity.


We have made clear that the inter-generational transfer of success is influenced not only by environment, but also by heredity. If we combine this fact with the high homogeneity of reproducing couples in their qualitative characteristics, we end up with two, to a high extent separate, worlds. Breaking out of the world of poverty to the state of welfare is so difficult, that it happens only in exceptional cases. In Slovakia – as in the majority of other developed countries – the world of poverty is growing in numbers, while the other world is dying out. It seems that the current paradigmatic approach to this phenomenon is unable to face and solve it.


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