One of the major stumbling blocks to a successful retirement is how the two sexes react to not working. Previous posts have dealt with some of the adjustments that both partners must make when one or both retire from daily employment. This time around I'd like to focus on how men and women differ when each moves toward retirement or officially leaves the working world behind.
Retirement and men:
Various study show that men tend to be overconfident about their investing and retirement planning skills. This helps explain why so many enter the last decade of work with nothing close to what will be needed. In this country the average person within 20 years of a typical retirement age has a only $50,000 in retirement savings. For those in their late 50's and early 60's the average is not much better: $104,000. What are we thinking? There is no retirement tooth fairy that is about to leave hundreds of thousands of dollars under our pillow. While these figures are not for men only, the investor and saver in the majority of couple or family situations is the male, so he must bear the most responsibility for this problem facing financial reality.
In additional to financial issues, for many men in our culture identity revolves around a number of commonly repeated central roles and skills:
•being a good provider for his family
•being 'useful' to society in general
•being in charge of situations
I might argue that these are more stereotypes than reality in the second decade of the 21st century. But, many men believe these three statements are true. That belief, whether based in reality or not, creates problems. In order to adjust successfully to retirement, men have to start redefining the bases of their sense of self. Without the role of breadwinner or leader to rely on, one may ask, who am I? Self-esteem can start to fall and depression can set in.
If prior to retirement your partner stayed at home while you worked, she may resent your intrusion into her areas of control. This is especially true if, in an attempt to direct your urge to do something, you attempt to impose yourself on her well-established routines. Tension can arise out of the increased need for joint decision-making.
Loneliness and isolation are a risk in old age for the simple reason that as people grow older, more and more of their friends tend to die, move away, or lose the mobility needed to keep in touch. This is particularly an issue for men, who tend to emphasize self-reliance and put less effort into maintaining their social networks. Most men have few friends, and often not a single close friend in whom they can confide.
Retirement and women:
Contrary to what some may assume, research indicates women overall bring less emotion to the stock market than men and approach investing more dispassionately. This can make a big difference in the size of one's investment and savings situation. Mistakes are admitted and a women moves on. Men are more likely to hold onto a losing investment longer in hopes it will turn around, thus avoiding having to admit making a mistake in the first place.
This is an important consideration because women, on average, outlive men by about six years. This means women will require extra money for their retirement. According to some studies most baby boomer women who are approaching their retirement age are expected to live well into their nineties. This says that women will have to prepare for emotional and financial security during a retirement that could last more than thirty years.
Another factor typically faced by many women is they spent less time in the work force. On average, men have 44 years of work while women average 32 years. Why? It is the female who usually takes a break from her career to have and then take care of children, and sometimes even to become a full time caregiver for aging parents, both hers and his.
Interruptions in the working life of women have important financial consequences. When women stop working Social Security contributions cease. Obviously, that means reduced benefits later on. Plus, women still earn only about 77 cents to every dollar earned by a male.
Women have one major advantage over men during their prime years: diversity. Many women juggle both a job and a household. This situation teaches women to be able to handle a wide range of problems and tasks simultaneously, skills which come in handy during retirement.
A fascinating finding I discovered while preparing this article came from a study conducted at a university in Australia. The researchers looked at the concept of a retirement letdown. This is the period I have referred to as the second stage of retirement. The initial honeymoon period has worn off and the stark reality of not working becomes a major factor. Stress, worry, feeling unfulfilled, and extra strains on a relationship begin to occur.
Men tended to experience this retirement letdown after six months. Women, on the other hand, didn't experience similar problems until five years after retirement. Unfortunately, the study didn't answer the obvious question: why is there such a difference between the sexes in going through this down period?
I could speculate that it comes from points made earlier in this post. Men have so much of their identity wrapped up in their jobs, are so focused on just a handful of things, and have a weaker social support system that the end of work creates a much bigger problem for guys. Interestingly, if this study is repeated in another 5 or 10 years I wonder if the results would be the same. The increased role of women in the business world and the evolution of more shared responsibilities at home might push women closer to the man's timetable of six months before the letdown.
All of this proves a point made may times in satisfying retirement: this journey we are on is not easy. Hard work, planning, compromise, sensitivity to others, and personal growth are not just nice attributes to possess: they are requirements. Add to that the differences between men and women and it is a pleasant surprise how many of us are enjoying the ride!