June 4, 2016

Sex and Retirement

Sex always grabs attention, especially the concept of retirement and sex. Of course, with a blog title of satisfying retirement you might imagine there is a connection. Well, sorry to disappoint, but this post will not be about what happens in private moments.

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!


  1. This fits my husband to a tee, especially no. 3.... Control. He had a difficult time with retirement and I saw depression slowly arrive due to a lack of sense of purpose, friends, as we moved away and anger at not being able to do some of the things he physically use to be able to do, because of age and some heart issues. After 11 years, he died of brain cancer and I will always believe his inability to adjust and the angst it brought him and the negative effect it had on our marriage ( more petty arguements etc.) , brought on his cancer.

    1. That is sad. I am sorry you (and he) could not adjust to the promise of retirement. Too many men struggle when work ends and they have no real identity outside of the job.

  2. Bob, you've got to know that the title of this post is going to bring lots of readers your way!! When a person actually thinks about how different men and women are, it's a wonder that any of our partnerships make it. Most of us need those differences to stretch us, though. Over the years, I've learned much from my husband, and the future will bring many more lessons.

    The points you and Mary make about shifts in self esteem and purpose make me wonder what can we do to better prepare for the transition of retirement? I know reading posts like this one and those of other bloggers, has helped me and my husband communicate more about the issues involved with retirement. Your comment about maintaining sensitivity toward one another and life's issues, is crucial, too. Thanks for the reminders.

    1. Thanks, Pam.

      The new phone service I have written about in a few posts that allows people to talk to a compassionate listener may turn out to be a good resource for folks who are struggling with retirement adjustments.

    2. Thanks, Pam.

      The new phone service I have written about in a few posts that allows people to talk to a compassionate listener may turn out to be a good resource for folks who are struggling with retirement adjustments.

  3. I've been mostly retired for over ten yeas now and have yet to experience retirement letdown (altho' I do occasionally experience the control issues to talk about). Anyway, your investment insights remind me of a book from a couple of years ago: "Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl ... and Why You Should Too" from The Motley Fool.

    1. Intriguing title, and one that I assume supports the points of this post. Mr. Buffett has done rather well for himself and those who invest with him.

      Control issues remain a work in progress for me, too, after 15 years of retirement.

  4. Hi Bob,
    This is an interesting post that touches on a lot of important issues for retirees. Gender differences are important for our entire lives, including our retirement years. Men and women approach life differently, think differently, and respond differently to problems and opportunities, as you pointed out regarding investments. Thanks for this summary of gender differences.

    1. Men and women are very different beyond the obvious physical parts! The fact that women can be less emotional about investment decisions might surprise those who think of women as being controlled by emotions instead of logic all the time.

      I think it will be a very eye-opening 4 or 8 years if Hillary Clinton becomes president. She will have the opportunity to change a lot of stereotypes about women and their response to various situations.

      BTW, my financial advisor is a woman. I trust her judgement with my life savings and what I expect to leave for my children.