February 24, 2017

Retirement and Sex: Our Real Differences



Fifty Shades of Retirement? Not even close. 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 is going in a different direction.

One of the major stumbling blocks to a successful retirement is how the two sexes react to not working. Lots of 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 a bit closer on how men and women are quite different when each moves toward retirement or officially leaves the working world behind.

Retirement and men:

Various studies 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: $100,000.

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 the problem of facing financial reality.

In additional to financial issues, for many men, identity revolves around a number of culturally accepted central roles and skills:

•being a good provider for his family
•being 'useful' to society in general
•being in charge of situations

The good news is these three traits are more stereotypes today than they were a generation ago. But, most men probably believe these 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 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. (see the post from earlier this year on friendship and retirement)

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 almost seven 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 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. Coupled with the unfortunate reality of lower pay to begin with, women are often at a serious financial disadvantage.

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.

Retirement letdown:

A fascinating finding I discovered while preparing this article came from a study conducted a few years ago 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 up to 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 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!

23 comments:

  1. The importance of planning can't be overstated when it comes to retirement. Retirement needs to be managed - sometimes you're the CEO, sometimes you're the worker drone. (Reminds me of a line in a Mary Chapin Carpenter song - sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug; sometimes you're the Louisville slugger, sometimes you're the ball.) I'm 4 yrs in to retirement and haven't experienced the retirement letdown yet. The seasonal rhythms of life have a lot to offer with the freedom and luxury of time. My retirement has been a privilege and a luxury and I'm still revelling in it.

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    1. Then so far you are right in line with the research study! I remember that Mary Chapin Carpenter song - I liked it because it was so true.

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  2. While I also read about and am sensitive to the issues facing many retirees and early retirees, like Mona I never hit the wall, so to speak, in terms of regret or worry about my decision. I am now three years in and life is a beach!

    Those final points you made in your last paragraph are the keys, Bob. Hard work, planning and so on are keys throughout one's life and not just when it comes to retirement preparations. Those who do not practice those items are doomed to a less than ideal retirement, and will have to depend upon luck or an expanded welfare system to prop them up. With all the demands on this nation's treasury I would not bank on the latter.

    BTW, I reread the article three times and still missed the sex parts. I'll keep looking; probably an issue with my browser.

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    1. Do you have a filter installed?

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    2. No filter, Bob. That moral compass sometimes gets out of whack as well.

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  3. Well,yes,Ken did "impose himself on my established routines" and as a result he now gets to clean the bathrooms, vacuum and clean the kitchen! He does it so much better ! (Or so he thinks--) After many years of cleaning I am ok with handing it over!!!

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    1. Betty and I will split the dinner chores: both of us help prepare whatever we are eating and then we rotate who cleans up and loads the dishwasher. It works well.

      Since we decided that a house cleaning service every two weeks was worth the money to us, we haven't had to wrangle over the rest of the cleaning chores.

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  4. I did hit a retirement wall about three years in. I am female. I think it had to do with too much care giving for elders in my family and not enough self care.

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    1. Unfortunately, that duty can really throw a wrench into the best laid plans. If not careful, as you note self-care can take a beating.

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  5. I don't think of it as a letdown. It's more like normalization...you go from yippee! I am on vacation for the rest of my life to okay, this is my life now. Recognizing you still have chores and obligations and have a rough pattern to follow. Nine years in and, maybe because my job was stressful, don't ever miss it. Life is good.

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    1. I will have a post coming up in a few weeks that addresses how your life after retirement maintains quite a bit of what occurred before. Sometimes I think we assume that the "perpetual vacation" after first leaving work will continue. Not so.

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  6. More thoughts on this post: I experienced this backwards..I had the let down right off the bat-- I had high expectations and too many plans. I had to let go and learn to stop working for real, and to allow new rhythms to come forward. Starting year 4 now,I feel i am hitting my stride with relaxation into the whole experience.Ken is more even in general..he's been pretty happy being retired right from the start,even with our disruptive move up North and back..he goes with the flow more than anyone I know! We both have hobbies we enjoy alone and stuff we do together. Quiet time, busy time, and a lot of relaxation time.. less travel than we thought.. and lots more appreciation for just the plain old FREEDOM that retirement brings..

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    1. Your "adventure" up north and then return to the Valley provided some extra stress and adjustments. But, you and Ken have hit your stride and seem very content. Good for you!

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  7. Six years of retirement for me, so I'm past the 5 year letdown. However, like Madeline, I entered retirement thinking that my time would be unlimited and I would be able to do everything I had been looking forward to. I was "let down" when I realized that there were still only 24 hours in the day. In the years since, I've accepted that I still have to make choices about how to spend my time--I can't do everything on my fantasy list. But I do fill the time with things that are meaningful to me, including time to do nothing. Great post...and yes, from the title I thought you were headed in a different direction!

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    1. I was tempted to be a bit more risque and position it as health information, but decided, not a smart move.

      At the moment my fantasy list is lacking. I find myself watching time go by instead of filling it with things i want to accomplish. I guess that is the season I am in at the moment.

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    2. Your use of the word "accomplish" caught my attention. Perhaps a part of this stage of life is not feeling the need to accomplish, but rather to experience. If you look at how I spend my time, you might not see a lot of accomplishment. Sitting by the creek for an hour, for example, might look like watching time go by. But that time can be rich with experience. Just a thought....

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    3. And an excellent one. Accomplishment wasn't the best word. Better would be things I want to do.

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  8. Many good points, but two postscripts: 1) According to the CDC male life expectancy at age 65 is 17.7 years, compared to 20.3 years for women. So don't sell us short. Women only outlast us by 2 1/2 years, not by 7 years. 2) I've always said that one of the benefits of feminism for men is that it relieves us of sole responsibility for providing for a family -- which can trap men in a dangerous and/or hated job, cause all kinds of stress and which has historically sent many men to an early grave.

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    1. I'll take your figures. They give me extra time.

      While I am not sure #2 can be scientifically proven, you may be right. Then, again it could be DNA based. That is an interesting question.

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  9. I'm 62 and a 1/2 and have been retired for almost a year, so I'm still new at this. I've read your book and followed your blog for the past two years or so prior to retiring along with reading several other books on the subject. With that said it seems I also haven't done the best at planning. It seems to happen to a lot of us and even the best of us. I'm not ready to give up and go back to work. I'm just going to push forward.............

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I'm glad you don't plan on giving up yet. Retirement is a journey and that means you will take some bumpy roads and some that might end in a brick wall. Just back up a bit and tery another path. It is worth the effort.

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  10. While I've only been retired just over a year, I'm not feeling a real letdown yet - more of the free time/I can do anything I want joy. So far. I will admit to an adjustment with both DH and I home together all the time. He is a lifelong sailor and decided when he turned 70 to sell his boat. That left him with a lot of free time including all the planning and execution he filled the winters with, not to mention all the sailing magazines he had now stopped getting. But after a year or so, he found a volunteer activity that fills his time. He volunteered for our county search & rescue team. Needless to say, this has required a lot of training, meetings, ham radio training, etc.etc. He loves it! Survival classes in the woods at night are surely not my cup of tea, but I'm happy he has a new hobby. And he claims he doesn't miss the maintenance and work on the boat, especially since his son has a lovely one we can visit in the summer.

    It's a journey, indeed.
    ---Hope

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    1. I applaud your husband in finding such an engaging replacement for his sailing passion. For a few years I helped with my ham club's involvement with one of the local hospitals. We would train for an emergency when the hospital's power would fail and they would need batter-powered ham radios to communicate within the facility.

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