Women Retire Earlier Than Men, but Don't Have To
A new study says women tend to drop out of the workforce before men. Here's how to stay on the job in your 60s and beyond.
Kerry Hannon has covered personal finance for Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today for nearly three decades. She's the author of Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness; What's Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job; Great Jobs for Everyone 50+ and Suddenly Single: Money Skills for Divorcees and Widows. Her website is kerryhannon.com. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.
They’re engaged, working hard — and happy.
None of them are “retired” or planning to step aside anytime soon. (If you’re a woman over 50 who wants to remain in the workforce for a while, I have some suggestions below.)
A Head-Scratching Retirement Study
That's why I was perplexed after stumbling upon a blog post that asked, “Why do women retire earlier than men?” on the website of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College. It was written by Phyllis Moen, McKnight presidential chair in sociology at the University of Minnesota and research fellow at the Sloan Center, and based on a study by Moen and Sarah M. Flood, a researcher at the University of Minnesota.
(MORE: A Gen Xer’s Plea: ‘Mom, You Need to Prepare for Retirement’)
Moen reports that that women in their 50s, 60s and early 70s – sometimes called the encore years – “are less apt than men to be working for pay across this age span and more likely to use the word ‘retired’ to define themselves.”
She also notes that self-employment is less common among women than men in that age range. “When we broadened our scope to include any form of public engagement (paid work; volunteering; informally helping out), we found that men are still more apt to be engaged than women,” she writes, “and the percentages don’t match up until men and women are in their late 70s.”
Moen and Flood based their findings on data they reviewed concerning the amount of time Americans in their encore years allocate to paid work. They just published their conclusions in the journal Social Problems.
Reasons to Keep Working
I view their conclusions as disconcerting since I’m always preaching the importance of working as long as you can and gradually phasing into retirement through part-time, bridge jobs that let you stave off dipping into savings and delay claiming Social Security. (Your Social Security checks get 8 percent larger every year you postpone receiving them between age 62 to 70.)
As I wrote in my book, Great Jobs for Everyone 50+, work and volunteering give us a sense of purpose and help us feel connected and needed. It’s hard to pin a precise paycheck to those feelings, but they’re very real.
Moreover, many experts on aging say you’re likely to stay healthy as you get older by learning new things, remaining active socially and exercising. Stop challenging your brain with new experiences and you’ll be in trouble.
Yet Moen and Flood, drawing on the government’s American Time Use Survey, say boomer women are exiting the workforce faster than men and aren’t carving out much time for volunteering when they do.
What Makes Women Retire Earlier Than Men
Why? They cite three reasons:
- Women in this age group have poorer health, in general, than men.
- Women are “more likely than men to experience involuntary retirement” as a result of layoffs and buyouts.
- Women face more caregiving demands to assist their spouses, grandchildren and elderly parents and relatives.
That last one is a biggie. “Ms. Flood and I found that women who care for a nonresidential child or grandchild or for an infirm older adult,” Moen writes, “are about half as likely to be engaged in paid work than women without these obligations.”
(MORE: The Retirement Topic Nobody Likes to Talk About)
And here’s her jaw-dropping conclusion: “Charting the time allocations of women and men suggests that the encore life stage could become a new arena for gender inequality, in which women with caregiving obligations are selectively excluded from participating in public activities that society values.”
Moen believes employers need to welcome more women who want to work in their 50s through 70s. “The bonus years of health and vitality producing an emerging encore life stage can promote public engagement only if women and men in this age group can find flexible jobs, openings for less-than-full-time encores,” she says. “Such opportunities have yet to be institutionalized and legitimized in either government or corporate policies and practices.”
Wow. That’s a rousing call for action.
I won't be doling out advice on how to steer clear of a corporate layoff or buyout here, since those kinds of decisions are often out of anyone's control. (Next Avenue has another piece on what to do if you think you may be fired, though.) But I will do is lend some counsel on ways to get back in the door somewhere else.
Age Discrimination Plays a Role
One reason I suspect that so many women are retiring is that they’re hitting a wall getting back into the workplace after either a job loss or taking time off for caregiving duties.
Another is that they're often running into subtle, but real, age discrimination. A new AARP survey of 1,502 adults ages 45 to 64 confirms this.
8 Tips for Women Who Aren’t Ready to Retire
So what should you do if you’re a woman over 50 and aren’t ready to retire? I have eight suggestions:
1. Sharpen your toolbox. If you don’t have the essential technical skills needed for a job, head to your local library or community college and get training. Taking classes or getting certified can strengthen your resumé.
2. Be sure you’re physically fit. There’s no need to run a superfast mile, but you should exude a vibrancy and energy that comes from being in shape. That will help convince employers you’re not running out of gas.
3. Reach out for referrals. Your online resumé won’t get you hired; an interview will. So your mission is to connect with anyone who can get you in the door for a face-to-face meeting.
As my Next Avenue colleague Nancy Collamer, a career coach, noted in her blog post, “The No. 1 Way to Get Hired Today,” a 2012 Federal Reserve Bank of New York study found that referred candidates were twice as likely to get interviews and 40 percent more likely to be hired than other candidates.
4. Sell your age as a plus. One of your calling cards, when you’re over 50, is that you have a storehouse of knowledge. There’s also a good chance you’ve built up leadership qualities that an employer could use.
5. Start your own business. Who says you have to work for someone else at this age? According to a new American Express report, the number of women-owned firms grew by 59 percent between 1997 and 2013 — outpacing the 41 percent increase in the total number of U.S. businesses.
So consider opening a consulting practice, making yourself available for short-term projects. Alternatively, you might find that creating a patchwork of income streams will give you the flexibility you crave, particularly if you’re taking on caregiving duties.
(MORE: How to Create a Career Transitions Group for Women)
6. Open yourself up to new possibilities. It’s easy to get locked into the “this is the kind of work I have always done” mentality. But now’s the time to kick that notion to the curb.
Look at your skill set and past work experience as a moveable feast that’s redeployable to lots of different fields.
7. Volunteer for a nonprofit. Not only will this help you keep your skills sharp, it could lead to a paid job. Forty-four percent of nonprofits plan to hire more workers this year, up from only a third of them two years ago, according to a survey by NonProfit HR Solutions, a human resources consulting firm in Washington, D.C.
Health-related nonprofits were most likely to report plans to hire, followed by environmental and animal-welfare groups.
You could look for opportunities on LinkedIn.com's volunteer area or at websites such as VolunteerMatch.org, Idealist.org and Allforgood.org.
Programs such as AARP’s Experience Corps and the federal Senior Corps can also help you find openings. You might even want to apply for one of the Encore Fellowships offered around the country by Encore.org.
(MORE: Encore Careers for the Rest of Us)
8. Work with a career coach. One of these pros can help you chart your next path in the working world. Search for potential coaches at Coachfederation.org, Lifeplanningnetwork.org and 2Young2Retire.com.
Employing these strategies will give you a better shot of retiring when you want and the way you want, rather than having that decision made for you by an employer.