Is it true that retirement is easier for women than for men?
It’s commonly believed that women, regardless of marital status, find retirement easier.
A happy retirement depends on more than gender. Health, family, and financial circumstances derail retirement plans for men and women alike.
Once retired, however, women tend to find retirement easier.
In my experience, this generalization holds true for women who are in their mid 60s or older. It may also apply to younger women but many from that age cohort were socialized with ‘boomer generation’ expectations. Younger women have experienced life differently, reaping the benefits of feminism at home and in the workplace.
Women spend years anticipating retirement as a phase of life when there will finally be enough time to pursue a lifetime of diverse interests. With retirement, work-family pressures decrease. There is time to indulge in the many interests, activities and hobbies for which there was never enough time during career days. There is time to exercise, to care for oneself and to care for the home.
Friendships and relationships serve as protective factors during retirement. Positive family relationships and a strong social network are resources that help people cope with stressful events and life transitions, such as retirement. Social contact reduces stress so it’s important to spend time with people.
Staying connected with friends and forming new retirement relationships requires skills that women have in abundance. Women engineer the social and family life within a household in all stages of family development. They are expert at maintaining friendships and relationships.
Women usually have more close friendships and relationships than their male counterparts. This leaves women less isolated which is an important attribute when dealing with a major life transition such as retirement. Having someone to talk to about feelings or problems validates the retirement experience.
Throughout life, men have relationships involving groups or teams. Their activities involve competition, rough and ready sports, and outdoor activities. The physical stamina required for participation often means that such activities become more difficult with aging.
Too often, golf becomes the default choice as a retirement activity for men. This works for some but many find it boring, expensive or limited by living in a Northern climate.
Books abound on the differences between men and women in how communication occurs. In retirement, women’s tendency to seek closeness, understanding and empathy helps women to reach out and talk.
Women discuss problems and feelings with others. Although many find this an annoying trait, for women, such discussions offer guidance, affirmation and support.
Men seldom discuss their feelings with each other. Men talk about ‘stuff’ — facts, news, and sports.
Men are socialized to not show emotion or discuss emotional reactions. It’s taboo to talk about one’s feelings much less to ask another man about his feelings. There is no place for such dialogue in locker rooms. Men cope with their feelings by turning inward.
Women are also skilled, intuitive listeners allowing for reciprocal communication and shared experiences. With the exchange of confidences, emotional connections are strengthened, feelings are expressed, and relationships affirmed. Closeness develops.
Taking Charge of the Nest
In most families, women are in charge of the nest. It’s akin to the old days of making sure that the farm functioned effectively, people and animals were cared for, crops sown and harvested, and that food was available for all.
Taking charge of the nest is a mixed blessing that involves keeping track of mundane obligations, household tasks, and schedules. Women remember family and social commitments such as birthdays, anniversaries, and important appointments.
After years of remembering the dates for piano rehearsals, soccer tournaments, and children’s examinations, a woman’s mind develops a built-in scheduler. Keeping track of these activities ensures that women stay involved with a variety of social commitments. This helps to give structure and purpose in their lives.
Variations occur, and spouses tend to have distinct roles, but women assert power over most key household decisions. Seldom are dominant social roles violated.
For single women this is a non-issue as there is nobody with whom to share power.
Whether retirement is easier for women than for men depends on many factors. Regardless of gender or marital status, keeping a network of friends, learning to communicate well, and developing a retirement identity within the household are all important for a happy and inspired retirement.