Adjusting to Retirement

For most older adults, retirement is an active, rewarding period of their lives. They now have time to pursue interests and complete tasks that they had to postpone or devote less time to during their working years. Not only do most people adjust well to retirement, but also their health and happiness may actually improve when they are no longer required to conform to the daily grind (Betancourt, 1991; Herzog & House, 1991; Quinn & Burkhauser, 1990). For these reasons, retirees are, on the whole, satisfied individuals who retain a sense of usefulness and pride in themselves and their accomplishments.

A 1995 Gallup Poll found that 51% of Americans aged 65 and older were "Very satisfied" with the way things were going in their personal lives, the highest of any age group. As might be expected, a much larger percentage (67%) of individuals whose annual incomes were over $75,000 than individuals whose incomes were in the $30,000-$49,999 bracket (53%), the $20,000-$29,999 bracket (43%), or the under $20,000 bracket (31%) indicated that they were "Very satisfied" with the way things were going in their personal lives (Moore &Newport, 1995).

Retirement is, of course, not a pleasant experience for everyone. Retirees with financial and health problems, whose identity was tied up with their jobs, who were forced to retire, and who have made few, if any, plans about what to do with the rest of their lives have difficulty adjusting. For these individuals, retirement is accompanied by feelings of diminished usefulness, insignificance, and dependence, and sometimes a sense that life is essentially over. The loss of meaningfulness and importance that occurs may, like any prolonged stress, accelerate the process of age-related decline. However, when anxiety and depression occur immediately after retirement, they are usually mild and short-lived (Palmore, Burchett, Fillenbaum, George, & Wall-man, 1985). Certainly there is no evidence that postretirement depression increases the risk of suicide (Stenback, 1980).

Whether one is able to adjust satisfactorily to retirement depends to a large extent on attitudes and behavior patterns that developed during the working years. For highly work-oriented people who organized their lives around their jobs and have no substitute for them, retirement can be an unpleasant, extremely stressful experience. Blue-collar workers, who have lower incomes and are more likely to have neglected to develop hobbies and other leisure activities during their working years, usually want to keep on working and have a harder time adjusting to retirement (Riley & Foner, 1968). Because of the economic disadvantages that they have experienced during their working years, women seem to have even greater difficulty than men in adjusting to retirement (Perkins, 1992). But like men, healthier and more highly educated women tend to adjust better (Szinovacz & Washo, 1992).

In order for people to make a good adjustment to retirement, they must be willing to reorganize their lives and change their self-perceptions from worker to retiree. The change need not be one to total idleness; many retirees find part-time employment or become involved in volunteerism (Human Capital Initiative, 1993). In general, adjusting to retirement is easiest for those who are healthy, active, and well-educated, and have adequate incomes and a good social network of family members and friends, and who were satisfied and happy even before retirement (Palmore et al., 1985).

For the next 10 years or so, the percentage of the American population consisting of individuals in both the 25-64 and the 65 and over age brackets is expected to increase slightly. After 2010, however, the forecast is for the percentage of people in the 25-64 age bracket to decline, while the percentage of those in the 65-and-older bracket increases. By the year 2030, it is anticipated that the percentage of 25-64 year-olds will have declined from a

1995 figure of 51.6% to 47.4%, while the percentage of those 65 and over will have risen from a 1995 figure of 12.6% to 20.2%. Thus, by 2030 the greater numbers of the latter age group—the so-called "geezer boomers"—will be needed to compensate for the decline in the percentage of 25-64-year-olds (Silverstein, 1996). As larger numbers of older Americans remain in the work force, it is expected that the average retirement age will increase as the century wears on. Retirement may still be an attractive alternative to full-time employment, but it is likely to be postponed for greater numbers of people.

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