Retirement rarely affects only a single individual. No matter how personal the joys and sorrows of retirement may be, the interpersonal relations they
have shape retirees’ reactions. Social ties help people deal with the stresses of retirement, as they do in other life transitions. In many cases, these ties involve friendships and other relationships formed earlier in adulthood.
Social relationships help cushion the effects of any life stress throughout adulthood. This support takes many forms: letting people know they are loved; offering help if needed; providing advice; taking care of others’ needs; just being there to listen. Retirees who have close and strong social ties have an advantage in adjusting to the life changes that retirement brings (Henkens, 1999; Pinquart & Schindler, 2007; van Solinge, & Henkens, 2007).
Intimate Relationships. In the past, much attention was focused on the role of intimate relationships in adjusting to retirement. Marriage has provided the framework for almost all this research. Ideally, marital partners provide mutual support during the transition to retirement (Moen et al., 2001). Whether marriage actually serves this function is unclear. Marital status by itself has little effect on older women’s satisfaction with retirement (Szinovacz, 1996). Never-married men are as satisfied as married retirees, whereas divorced, separated, or widowed retired men are much less happy (Barfield & Morgan, 1978). Perhaps never-married men prefer singlehood and become accustomed to it long before retirement. All in all, these findings point to the stabilizing effects of marriage for men.
Possible benefits aside, retirement undoubtedly has profound effects on intimate relationships such as marriage. It often disrupts long-established patterns of family interaction, forcing both partners (and others living in the house) to adjust (Pearson,
1996) . Simply being together more may put strain on the relationship. Daily routines of couples may need rearrangement, which may be stressful. However, because marital satisfaction among older couples tends to be quite high, most couples can resolve these stresses.
One common change that confronts most retired married couples (in traditional households in which only the husband was employed) is the division of
household chores. Although retired men tend to do more work around the home than they did before retirement, this situation does not always lead to desirable outcomes (Szinovacz, 1992, 1996). For example, an employed husband may compliment his wife on her domestic skills; after retirement, however, he may suddenly want to teach her to do things “correctly" Part of the problem may be that such men are not used to taking orders. One retired executive remarked that before he retired, when he said “Jump!” highly paid employees wanted to know how high. “Now, I go home, I walk in the door, and my wife says, ‘Milton, take out the garbage.’ I never saw so much garbage” (Quigley, 1979, p. 9). Finally, part of the problem may be in the perception of one’s turf; after retirement men feel that they are thrust into doing things that they, and their partners, may have traditionally thought of as “women’s work” (Troll, 1971). As more dual-earner couples retire, it will be interesting to see how these issues are handled.
Intimate family relationships are clearly important sources of support for retirees. However, they are not the only ones; friendship networks also provide support that often complements family networks. Friends sometimes provide types of support that, because of the strong emotional ties, families may be less able to offer: a compassionate, but objective listener; a companion for social and leisure activities; or a source of advice, transportation, and other assistance.
As mentioned earlier, in general, neither the number nor the quality of friendships declines as a result of retirement (Bosse et al., 1993). When friendships change during retirement, it is usually due to some other reason, such as very serious health problems, that interferes with people’s ability to maintain friendships. We do need to bear in mind the gender differences in friendships we discussed in Chapter 11, though. Older men have fewer close personal friends for support than do older women. This difference may help explain the gender difference between marital status and satisfaction discussed earlier. Men, because of their fewer close relationships, may be forced to rely more on their wives for support.
Community Ties. Throughout adulthood, most people become and remain connected with their communities. Thus an important consideration is whether the social environment aids retirees’ ability to continue old ties and form new ones. The past few decades have witnessed the rapid growth of organizations devoted to providing such opportunities to retirees. National groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) provide the chance to learn, through magazines, pamphlets, and websites, about what other retirees are doing and about services such as insurance and discounts. Numerous smaller groups exist at the community level; these include senior centers and clubs. Several trade unions also have programs for their retired members. These activities promote the notion of lifelong learning and help keep older adults cognitively fit.
A common way for retired adults to maintain community ties is by volunteering. Older adults report that they volunteer to help themselves deal with life transitions (Adlersberg & Thorne, 1990), to provide service to others (Hudson, 1996; Okun & Schultz, 2003), and to maintain social interactions and learn more about the world (Okun & Schultz,
2003) . There are many opportunities for retirees to help others. One federal agency, ACTION, administers four programs that have hundreds of local chapters: Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), and the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). Nearly half of older adults aged 65 to 74 volunteer their services in some way, with substantial participation rates even among people over age 80 (Chambre, 1993). These rates represent more than a 400% increase since the mid-1960s, when only about 1 in 10 older adults did volunteer work. What accounts for this tremendous increase?
Several factors are responsible (Chambre, 1993; Morrow-Howell et al., 2003): improved public perception of the skills, increased psychological well-being and functioning, and wisdom older adults have to offer; a redefinition of the nature and merits of volunteer work; a more highly educated population of older adults; and greatly expanded
opportunities for people to become involved in volunteer work that they enjoy. In particular, current research indicates that volunteers experience greater increases in psychological well-being and health (Morrow-Howell et al., 2003; Shmotkin, Blumstein, & Modan, 2003). Given the demographic trends of increased numbers and educational levels of older adults discussed in Chapter 1, even higher rates of voluntarism are expected during the next few decades (Chambre, 1993). These opportunities may be a way for society to tap into the vast resources that older adults offer as well as provide additional meaningful roles for older adults.
1. What is the best way to conceptualize retirement?
2. What are the major predictors of the decision to retire?
3. What is included in a preretirement education program?
4. What factors contribute to adjustment to retirement?
5. How do retirees interact with their communities?
486 CHAPTER 12
492 CHAPTER 12