The power of interdependence

Words Nil Guzelgun

The ageing of the baby boomer generation brings both excitement and anxiety. Excitement about how this rebellious generation may change the way we look at older people, and anxiety about the social care support they will need in the future.

Through research with baby boomers in Essex we explored questions around their well being and what really matters to them, now and in the future. We identified a number of themes (which you can read about in more detail below), but, in this post, I want to draw your attention to a finding that I found surprising.

It struck me how much people struggle with the idea of ‘dependency’. We met people who were actively contributing to their communities as volunteers and active citizens; supporting their elderly parents, neighbours, grandchildren and other vulnerable people on a daily basis. And yet, these same people hated the thought of becoming a burden themselves. One carer who experienced hardship around her parents’ care wished more than anything that her children wouldn’t have to go through similar strains because of her. Many of the people we spoke to saw dependency as a ‘social debt’ which they wanted to avoid at all costs.

We often prioritise the achievement of independence in older age, but this risks underplaying the importance of dependency, which need not be imagined or experienced as a bad thing. Drawing on the support of a personal network of support, and counting on someone who cares about you mustn’t be a source of guilt or shame. On the contrary, it should be a source of happiness for both parties.

There is an opportunity to explore dependency positively by both expressing gratitude as a recipient of support, but also in terms of “give and take”. While older people may lose certain physical or mental capabilities, they retain a set of skills that they can and want to offer to others. A reciprocal exchange creates mutual value, whilst also building trust, gratitude and stronger connections in our communities. There are many ways to create opportunities for reciprocal support relationships in the community. North London Cares, for example, connects younger people who have lots of social connections but no ‘rooted-ness’ in the community with their older neighbours who have a wealth of knowledge about the locality and its history. Bringing these two groups together creates intergenerational relationships that benefit both sides.

Initiatives like this can change the way we look at dependency as a society, and most importantly create more connected and interdependent, more thriving, communities.

Read our research –

Helping future generations live good lives in Essex.