Adjustment to Retirement
Researchers agree on one point about retirement: It is an important life transition. New patterns of involvement must be developed in the context of changing roles and lifestyles (Antonovsky & Sagy, 1990; Wang, 2007). Until the early 1990s, research focused on what was thought to be a sequence of predictable phases of retirement, such as honeymoon, disenchantment, reorientation, acceptance, and termination (Atchley, 1982). Because retirement is now viewed as a process, the “typical” age of retirement has lost its meaning, and gender differences are evident in the decision to retire, the idea that retirement proceeds in an orderly stage-like sequence has been abandoned (Sterns & Gray, 1999). Instead, researchers support the idea that people’s adjustment to retirement evolves over time as a result of complex interrelation with physical health, financial status, voluntary retirement status, and feelings of personal control (Gall, Evans, & Howard, 1997).
How do most people fare? As long as people have financial security, health, and a supportive network of relatives and friends, they report feeling very good about being retired (Gall et al., 1997; Matthews & Brown, 1987). For men, being in good health, having enough income, and having retired voluntarily is associated with relatively high satisfaction early in retirement; having an internal sense of personal control is correlated with well-being over the long run (Gall et al., 1997, 1998). Wives’ retirement expectations were more influenced by husbands’ resources than vice versa (Pienta & Hayward, 2002). For both men and women, high personal competence is associated with higher retirement satisfaction, probably because competent people are able to optimize their level of environmental press (as described in Chapter 5).
It is important to consider individual differences in adjustment to retirement. Wang (2007) finds three major patterns. Retirees who held a transitional job, actively engaged in retirement planning, and who were married tended to maintain their familiar patterns. Retirees who retired from highly physically demanding or stressful jobs, and had low job satisfaction to begin with, were more likely to exhibit a recovering pattern where they felt that they were escaping an unpleasant work role. Finally, retirees who experienced health declines during retirement, who were in an unhappy marriage, or who retired prematurely demonstrated a pattern of negative changes in psychological well-being during the retirement transition, although later well-being did rebound.
One stereotype of retirement is that health begins to decline as soon as people stop working. Research findings do not support this belief; in
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Retirees tend to maintain a network of friends and are engaged in activities.
fact, well-being typically increases for men during the first year of retirement, especially if they had a choice (Gall et al., 1997; Kim & Moen, 2002; Quine et al., 2007).
A second stereotype is that retirement dramatically reduces the number and quality of personal friendships. Again, there is no research support for this belief. In fact several studies have shown that men like Matt, from the section-opening vignette, are typical; neither the number nor the quality of friendships declines as a result of retiring (Bosse, Aldwin, Levenson, Spiro, & Mroczek, 1993).
Finally, some people believe that retired people become much less active overall. This stereotype is also not supported by research. Although the number of hours in paid work decreases on average with age, older adults are still engaged for hundreds of hours per year in productive activities such as unpaid volunteer work and helping others (Herzog, Kahn, et al., 1989; Kim & Moen, 2001). We will specifically consider volunteer activities in the next section.