Why Retirement Is Not for Me—or for Many Women

I have been irritated for quite some time by constant questions from friends and colleagues about when I am going to retire. Some of them even imply that I am wrong not to be retired already. I love my work and get energy, joy, and satisfaction from it. Why would I want to stop doing what is so life-giving for me? I am now in my late sixties, and a few years ago I asked my mentor, Edith Whitfield Seashore, for advice about how to deal with these annoying questions. At the time she was still working and in her mid-eighties, and she replied: “When people ask me when I am going to retire, I ask, ‘Isn’t retirement doing what you love?’ When they say yes, I reply, ‘Then I guess I’m retired.’” I loved her response then, but I still get irritated by the same constant questions. I was very interested to read a recent article by Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times citing research that shows I am not alone. Women are working longer, many by choice because they are “having way too much fun.” Some, of course, work out of necessity. Miller cites research from two new studies that draw their data from the Health and Retirement Study at the University of Michigan as well as the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and Survey of Income and Program Participation. The new studies show:

  • Women are more likely than in previous generations to work at almost every point in their lives
  • Women are significantly more likely to work into their sixties and seventies—often full time—because they enjoy it
  • The above is also true in most developed countries, not just in the United States
  • Nearly 30 percent of women sixty-five to sixty-nine in the United States are working, up from 15 percent in the late 1980s
  • Eighteen percent of women seventy to seventy-four work, up from 8 percent
  • Men’s employment after sixty is up, too, but not as steeply
  • Women who are college graduates are more likely to be employed in the older age groups, but the age of employment for women with no degree is increasing at roughly the same pace
Sometimes women work longer because they enjoy it, and they want to stay active and engaged in the world of work. Sometimes, of course, women work longer because of financial necessity, and they have no choice. For those who choose to keep working, some are like me and have gone back to school or trained for a new career later in life. They had the energy and desire to stay engaged or start something new. I started a PhD program at the age of fifty-five and graduated at the age of sixty-one because I felt ready for a new challenge and wanted the stimulation. I also knew I wanted to keep working, so it seemed reasonable to me to invest in an advanced degree later in life. Many women go back to school or study for new certifications or licenses in their fifties, sixties and seventies because they find it energizing to master something new and discover new ways to contribute. Other women start new businesses or services that they find fulfilling. While the women described above are choosing to work, many women have no choice. Sometimes late-life divorce, inadequate or nonexistent pensions, or financial losses such as those incurred during the great recession—when many people lost their retirement savings and homes—create the need to keep working. Sometimes people have to keep working due to high accumulated debt, even if they would prefer not to. Health problems can also force us to step out of the workforce, and life can be quite difficult for those with no savings who must rely on Social Security. Many friends and colleagues of mine who choose to keep working have, however, been forced out of their organizations and told they are “too old” to continue. Ashton Applewhite of the New York Times writes about the mix of attitudes and institutional practices that create ageism and force out people with wisdom, experience, and energy before they are ready. Those forced out often struggle to recreate themselves when they know they want to keep working, but they can if they persist. I am grateful to have my health and satisfying work as I head into my seventies. I truly feel that we have no limits if we follow our energy and our dreams. What have you discovered about how to create the next chapter of your life? Let us hear from you.   Photo courtesy of Business Forward. CC by sa-2.0  ]]>

Joblessness and the “Care Chasm”: Why Women Drop Out of the Workforce

There was a lot of focus on a dearth of middle-class jobs for men in the United States during the recent presidential election. This discussion centered on the loss of good-paying manufacturing and mining jobs for men, which have been in decline since the 1960s due to automation and globalization. Not much attention has been paid, however, to the declining number of women in the US workforce. This trend is the opposite of trends in women’s employment in other industrialized countries. What explains this difference for women in the United States? While the decline in workforce participation for working-class men began in the 1960s, the slide for women’s participation did not begin until the early 2000s. Patricia Cohen of the New York Times explains that the drop in women’s workforce participation occurred for different reasons than it did for men. During this period, women have been earning college degrees in greater numbers; also, service sector jobs, where women are traditionally concentrated, have been growing. So why have women been dropping out of the workforce? Cohen notes that we do not have the family support policies in the United States that other industrialized countries have. In fact, here “women are still the primary caregivers—for children, aging parents, and ailing relatives.” Women often cite caregiving responsibility as the reason they are unable to hold on to unstable and inflexible jobs. Cohen cites economist Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, who reports, “Hardly any men who have dropped out say it is because they are helping with children or other family members.” Eberstadt goes on to note that a “care chasm” explains the stark contrast between women’s workforce participation in the United States and their participation rate in Europe. He explains that European countries with comprehensive family support policies have seen women’s labor force participation go up since 2000, while ours has plummeted. We need to demand that our legislators support policies for affordable child care, paid family leave, elder care support, and a living wage in the United States. Family support policies are good for all of us and for our economy.   Photo courtesy of Univ. of Salford. CC by 2.0    ]]>