Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Retirement Facts

Dear George,
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be celebrating the six-year anniversary of my retirement from the university.  That certainly whizzed by quickly.  I do feel I’ve settled into a reasonable new life path, though retirement is a huge transition, probably equivalent to marriage or the birth of one’s first child.  After 43 years in my workplace, I’m aware of big losses as well as opportunities to remake a life of my own choosing.  For years beforehand I quizzed older colleagues and acquaintances about their retirements, and, with few exceptions, they were enthusiastic, even exuberant.  One knowledgeable female friend, though, warned me that retirement for strongly career-oriented people can be devastating, a precursor to depression, illness, and death.  I wondered if she were being the most realistic.  There is quite a bit of social science research on the correlates and consequences of retirement.  Here are some of the things that I ran across on the Internet:

NUMBERS OF RETIREES: According to the Social Security Administration, there are currently about 38 million retired workers in the U.S.  (12)  [note: numbers in parentheses refer to sources listed at end] 
-Over 10,000 Baby Boomers will retire every day for the next two decades.  (4)

TIMING OF RETIREMENT: In 1991 half of American workers planned to retire before age 60; today that number has dropped to 23%.  (4)
-The typical American worker now retires at age 62.  (13) 
-On average, individuals who retire at age 65 can expect to live for 18 to 20 years in retirement.  (7)

RETIREMENT AND FINANCES: Investment firms typically recommend that retirees have assets of 8 to 11 times their annual wages to prepare adequately for old age.  (19)
-88% of Americans are worried about "maintaining a comfortable standard of living in retirement," and 40% plan to work "until they drop."  (4)
-According to the Social Security Administration, 20% of retirees' incomes come from pensions; 15%, asset income; 36%, Social Security, and 29%, part-time work.  (10)
-One in six older Americans lives below the poverty line ($22,350 for a family of four).  (17)

SATISFACTION WITH RETIREMENT:  Numerous studies indicate that most adults look forward to retirement and, once retired, are happy with retirement.  (9) 
-For example, one large-scale national survey study found that 61.5% of retirees reported high levels of satisfaction with retirement, 32.9% said they were somewhat satisfied, and 5.6% expressed dissatisfaction.  (16)
-Satisfaction with retirement is positively correlated with good health, satisfaction with one's previous job, engagement in productive activities (e.g., paid work, formal or informal volunteering, care-giving), self-esteem, and a sense of personal control over one's life outcomes.  Having been forced to leave work is associated with retirement dissatisfaction.  (11, 16)

RETIREMENT AND PHYSICAL HEALTH:  Gerontologists have not found any major long-term effects of retirement (independent of age) on physical health. (3)
-When retirees do experience negative health outcomes, these are more likely if individuals are unmarried, lack social support, don’t engage in physical activity, don’t work part-time, and have retired at an earlier age.  (1)

RETIREMENT AND PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING: Retirement per se has little impact, positive or negative, on mental health.  Researchers find that the most positive psychological effects of retirement are found for people with solid social supports who are engaged in their communities and spend more time with family and friends.  (15)
-In a review of twenty years of retirement research, social scientists Mo Wang and Beryl Hesketh conclude that psychological well-being in retirement varies as a function of five factors: 
  • (1) Individual attributes (financial status, physical health); 
  • (2) Pre-retirement job-related factors (e.g., lower well-being connected to work stress, job dissatisfaction, unemployment before retirement, stronger work identity);  
  • (3) Family factors (greater well-being for married vs. single persons, higher marital quality; less well-being with a working spouse, more dependents, losing a partner); 
  • (4) Retirement transition factors (e.g., greater well-being with voluntary retirement, retirement planning; less when retiring earlier than expected, retiring for health reasons); 
  • (5) Post-retirement activities (greater well-being with bridge employment, volunteer work, leisure activities; less with anxiety associated with social activities).  (18)
- One health website suggests that depression following retirement is likely to be most common for people: (a) who have invested a lot in their careers and neglected other areas of their lives; (b) whose sense of self-worth is dependent on their work; (c) who are frequently in the spotlight and don’t realize the impact of attention and admiration on their sense of self-esteem.  (5) 
- A recent retirement survey describes over two-thirds of retirees as active and enjoying a vigorous part of their life.  95% of retirees consider themselves open-minded; 94% peaceful; and 94% independent.  (14)

SIX PHASES OF RETIREMENT: Gerontologist Robert Atchley theorizes that there are six phases of retirement that individuals go through with retirement:
  • (1) Pre-retirement (disengagement from the workplace; planning);
  • (2) Retirement, including three alternative possible paths:
·       [a] the "Honeymoon", as if on indefinite vacation;
·       [b] the "immediate retirement routine", busy and comfortable;
·       [c] "Rest and relaxation", very low activity;
  • (3) Disenchantment (disappointment, uncertainty, felt lack of productivity);
  • (4) Reorientation ("taking inventory", finding a satisfying lifestyle);
  • (5) Retirement Routine (mastering a rewarding routine);
  • (6) Termination of Retirement (retirement role replaced by the subsequent role of disabled elder).  (8)

By and large, these data offer an encouraging picture.  I would sum it up by saying that people’s quality of lives in retirement vary as a function of physical health, income, social ties, and engagement in meaningful activities.  I’d say Katja and I are doing o.k. in these different domains.  Perhaps the most challenging is seeking out productive activities.  Our workplaces provided us with a host of goals and tasks that took up much of our daily lives.  Now there’s much less external structure and external pressure, and our daily rounds of activities are much more up to ourselves.  There’s more room for personal choice, but also more possibility for ennui.  Today my next steps will be to take a half-mile walk with the sheepdogs, eat a Lean Cuisine (Swedish Meatballs), work on my blog, and go off to my line dancing class.  Sounds good to me.

SOURCES:  (1):, “The effects of retirement on physical and mental health outcomes”; (2):, “Be ready for the 3 stages of retirement”; (3):, “Chapter 2: The effects of retirement”; (4):, "25 bitter and painful facts about the coming baby boomer retirement crisis"; (5):, “Beating depression after retirement”; (6): www.merckmanuals, "Effects of Life Transitions on Older People"; (7):, "Facts about retirement"; (8):, "Stages of retirement"; (9): www.psychsocgerontology.oxfordjournals,org, "Gender and Life Satisfacton in Retirement"; (10):, "Retirement trivia"; (11):, "Retirement and Life Satisfaction; (12):, "Social Security Basic Facts"; (13):, "Retirement statistics"; (14):, "Retirement facts"; (15):, “Retirement: a trigger for distress or welcome relief from the rat race?”; (16):, "Satisfaction and Engagement in Retirement"; (17):, "8 scary retirement facts"; (18):, “Achieving well-being in retirement”; (19), “Many blacks, Latinos have no retirement savings, report finds” 

G-mail Comments
-Phyllis S-S (12-17):  Dear Dave,  Interesting.  Did you see all the research that is coming out on the benefits if being bilingual?  Phyllis

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