Women’s Vulnerability in the Retirement Process
The way to mitigate the harm – find meaning in life after retirement
Retirees in the Western world are living longer, and sometimes, they continue to enjoy healthy and active lifestyles for two or even three decades after retiring from their jobs. The transition to retirement involves significant life changes, including various kinds of losses - economic, social, emotional, in terms of status, and in many other areas. Prof. Liat Kulik, of Bar-Ilan University’s Louis & Gabi Weisfeld School of Social Work, examined how retirement-related changes affect men and women, and whether they are experienced differently by the genders. The study showed that women are more detrimentally affected by retirement, both financially and in terms of emotional wellbeing.
According to the social constructionist approach, gender roles reflect the cultural perceptions that determine the status of men and women in society. Thus, since men tend to hold more senior positions during their careers and receive higher income and greater professional prestige than women, similarly during retirement, they will enjoy greater resources and will experience less harm to their emotional wellbeing, as compared to women.
Prof. Kulik’s study examined whether there are indeed gender differences during the retirement period with regard to a decline in resources, emotional wellbeing and a sense of meaning in life; whether the sense of having meaning in life tempers the detrimental effect of reduced resources on emotional wellbeing; and whether this impact differs between men and women. The sample included some 200 men and women, from 1-10 years following retirement, who participated in this questionnaire-based study. The participants had diverse socio-economic status, and in the past, engaged in a wide range of occupations.
The research findings showed that the emotional wellbeing of retired women is lower than that of retired men, and also their satisfaction with life and sense of meaning in their lives are lower as compared to men. It was also found that women are more vulnerable, particularly to the economic index: they estimate that they have fewer economic resources as compared to the extent to which men appraise their resources. The vulnerability of women is also reflected in their assessment of a greater decline in financial resources following the transition to retirement than that reported by men. Moreover, it was found that men believe that they make important decisions regarding larger purchases than women, and that women devote more hours to household responsibilities, as compared to men. Significant gender differences were also found in the use of a confidant: 73.1% of the women had a confidant in late adulthood as compared to only 61.3% among men. The study also shows that men’s emotional dependency on their spouses is higher than women’s emotional dependency on their spouses. While among men, the spouse is the main confidant, among women, friends and others serve as their confidants.
The findings show that a heightened sense of meaning in life moderates the negative impact of the decline in resources on emotional wellbeing among both men and women. In light of the findings, and due to the greater vulnerability of women, Prof. Kulik says that in the retirement preparation process, gerontologists and professionals should emphasize the importance of finding meaning in life after retiring, which has been found to be a valuable factor in inhibiting the impact of resource loss on emotional wellbeing. Professionals also need to empower women during this period of life, in dedicated intervention programs. And perhaps most importantly: policymakers who allocate economic resources to retirees should pay attention to financial aspects of women’s lives during the retirement process. Lack of material resources could overshadow women’s lives in late adulthood, in many areas, and harm their emotional wellbeing.