Relations Between Generations Turned into a Risk
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Relations Between Generations Turned into a Risk

SOUTHERN EUROPE HAS THE WORLD'S HIGHEST RATE OF CONTACTS BETWEEN THE OVER60S AND SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN AND THUS A STRONG CONTAGION POTENTIAL FOR AN AGE SENSITIVE DISEASE SUCH AS COVID19

A comparative analysis of intergenerational contacts, conducted by Nicoletta Balbo, Francesco Billari, and Alessia Melegaro (Department of Social and Political Sciences and Dondena Centre) shows that Southern Europe is the area with the highest frequency of contacts between individuals over 60 years of age and the population of younger age groups, especially children, kids and their parents. The strength of family and intergenerational ties, considered an advantage in normal times because it protects the well-being of younger and older generations and, to some extent, replaces welfare policies, becomes a risk factor in times of coronavirus.
 
The COVID-19 pandemic is age-sensitive because it seriously affects especially the older population, although it is can be carried by individuals of all ages. On the contrary, children are likely not to suffer symptoms in case of infection and therefore risk inadvertently infecting the rest of the population.
 
The countries of the Far East, according to the elaboration of the three authors, record rates of over-60s cohabiting with other generations equal or higher than those of Southern Europe (between 30% and 35% in South Korea and China and between 25% and 30% in Spain and Italy). The tables turn, though, and differences are ampler when observing the percentage of over-60s who have daily relationships with non co-resident children. In Spain, Italy (and Greece) the share is between 40% and 45%, in China just over 20% and in South Korea under 15%.
 
The rest of Europe and the United States have lower rates of co-residency and intergenerational contacts, and therefore the risk of infection passing between generations is lower than in Southern Europe and the Far East.
 
A matrix of contacts between individuals in Italy drawn up for the Polymod project (an international program funded by the European Commission between 2002 and 2008, in which Centro Dondena, Alessia Melegaro, and Francesco Billari participated) shows that the most frequent contacts are between school-age children within the same age group and between the over-60s and school-age children. Moreover, even from these social contact matrices we can get evidence that the average daily number of contacts of over-60s is generally higher in Italy than in other countries, and a large part of these contacts are with younger individuals.
 
The Italian case, the authors conclude, suggests observing the habits of co-residency and inter-generational contacts to identify the contexts most exposed to the spread of age-sensitive infections. It will also be appropriate to evaluate the consequences of social isolation policies in terms of loneliness and risk of mental distress for the older citizens, who in countries like Italy are often used to numerous daily social interactions.

The analysis has been published on Contexts.

by Fabio Todesco

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