I met with a friend last week who is a successful business woman and teaches at the college part-time just because she enjoys it. As this friend is now seventy, I asked her if she was planning on slowing down – maybe selling her business or traveling more. She answered, “Well, what would I do for the next 30 years? Maybe I’ll sell the business when I reach eighty-five”. Because friend takes very good care of herself, I can easily imagine that she will reach 100.
In general, women will outlive men by at least a couple of years. The average life expectancy for women is close to 87 while it is closer to 84 for men. The majority of women will spend at least some of their older years as widows. This reality does have some implications for choices we make as we think ahead to our third acts in life. Fortunately, research does suggest that the majority of women believe they are more than up for the challenges and opportunities that are ahead.
What Women Might Really Want
A 2018 TD Ameritrade survey on women and aging revealed that women tend to grow more optimistic about aging than men might (73% of women vs 59% of men having an optimistic view). More women reported that staying healthy was important to them than it was to men (56% vs. 47%). Women also look ahead to think of retirement as “their time” to do things that are meaningful to them. For some women, this can mean continuing to work in a job they love, work for themselves, volunteer, or spend more time with family and friends.
Joseph Coughlin, author of The Longevity Economy (2017) noted that women tended to “plan” for older age while men tended to look forward to leisure activities. Generally, women and men may view retirement differently.
A 2017 book by Anne Coon and Judith Feurherm, Thriving in Retirement: Lessons from Baby Boomer Women, explored the lives of 25 near or already retired professional women. From these focus groups, the authors shared that these women saw their professional lives as part of who there were and would always be. The majority of these women had enjoyed their professional lives because of the creative challenges they involved, the ability to work with others and to have professional recognition or a positive reputation.
It should be no surprise that as women retire, particularly those who had fought to earn a place in what was once a largely male-dominated workforce, it will be important to retain some of the same challenges and opportunities they valued in their careers.
Concerns and Communication
Even though many women tend to look at retirement optimistically and do have a lot of opportunities for exploring new horizons, not everything is completely rosy. Coon and Feurherm (2017) also revealed in their book that some of the women in their cohort had concerns about becoming isolated, losing their health, or having responsibilities for others, etc. Fearing that they might fall back into the ‘homemaker’ role was a fear that some also expressed. Establishing clear structures and boundaries were some strategies these women felt were important as they began spending more time at home.
When I left my full-time career, I anticipated that retirement would be filled with new opportunities and challenges. I had read numerous books, worked hard on developing a vision of what I wanted in retirement, and had lots of conversations with my husband before I started sharing the same space with him on a daily basis. I did communicate that I wanted to keep working – but for myself rather than for an institution. We also talked about our expectations and adjusted roles. These were helpful and important conversations. We did see retirement a lot differently. Part of those differences was related to personality, but gender was clearly a factor as well.