Article - Many Decisions

Many Decisions Face Women of Retirement Age


by Helen Dennis


Published in the Daily Breeze, October 28, 2004



Q.  I have worked as an executive in the financial services industry for 40 years.  I am female, love my work and am good at what I do.  My co-workers seem to tip-toe around the topic of retirement when speaking with me.  It is as though they are afraid to ask me my retirement plans without suggesting that it is “time for me to go.”  Since I really am having difficulty with the retirement decision, I am not sure how to handle the situation.  Your thoughts? -- R.J.


Dear R.J.:

          You have identified a situation facing many executive women.  My guess is that at this time, your retirement decision has less to do with money and more to do with the question, “What do I do now?”


          Here are some interesting trends.  In Women Confronting Retirement, editors Nan Bauer-Maglin and Alice Radosh, state “Never before has such a significant number of women defined themselves by their work.” Second, this generation of women eligible for retirement, are the first to work most of their adult lives outside the home. Third, the book editors observe that there has never has been such an extensive population of women facing retirement who are unsure of their self-worth -- without a job.


          Let’s examine some common myths that add to the confusion. 


Myth #1:  When we talk about retirement, we are all talking about the same thing.  

Not true.  There are so many different definitions of retirement.  Social scientists don’t agree with each other.  Almost every research study on retirement defines the term differently.  It can mean receiving a pension, not working and receiving a pension, working less than full time or just identifying yourself as a retiree.  Then there are those who are working and retired.  Are they working retirees?  Or retired workers?


Myth #2:  It is easier for professional women to retire because they can assume domestic roles.

No evidence for this one.  Career and professional women identify with their work and have not found it easier to retire because there is a domestic role waiting for them.  Many experience a loss of role, identity, social contacts and sometimes depression.


Myth #3:  When it comes to retirement, we can just apply to women what we know about men.

Again, not true.  We know that women’s retirement is different.  They have moved in and out of the work force, while men have a more continuous work pattern.  And for this reason (among many) a woman’s pension typically is less than a man’s.  This is one of the reason’s women have greater concern about their financial security in retirement.  Also, women’s retirement decisions often are influenced by family members such as a husbands, aging parents or ill spouses or partners.  This is less the case for men.


          I recently conducted a workshop at a woman’s conference in Orange County.  The title was “The New Retirement:  For Women Who Love Their Work.”  I asked the women to brainstorm what work meant to them.  I have conducted this exercise with over 9,000 employees, but never with an all-female group.


What amazed me was that these women identified at least 30 “goodies” of work, compared to a typical 10-15 reasons identified by mid and upper management men (predominantly) and women. In response to “what is the meaning of work in your life?” women responded with these single words. “Outlet for passion, contribution, people, making a difference, learning, creativity, money, value, accomplishment, recognition, reward, challenge, identity, structure, adulation, self-worth, power, respect, and many more.


Perhaps women more than men were being more open about the role of work in their lives, or that work may have even greater meaning to women than we think.


R.J., There are good reasons for your struggle.  We have no role models.  Regarding your co-workers, be honest.  Tell them that you have not made a decision about retirement and you will let them know…when you know.  You might indicate that you are among a generation of professional women who are redefining what retirement means, and find it challenging and exciting.   


R.J.  Thank you for your good question and good luck.  There is much more to discuss on the topic.



© Helen Dennis 2004. All rights reserved.