Men and Retirement: It’s Not Just about the Money

By now it’s no secret that men and women have different needs as they approach and plan for retirement. Usually, when we discuss the differences, we tend to focus on the special challenges women face in retirement because of less years spent earning, typically lower earnings rates, and longer life expectancy.

But it’s important to remember that men have special, distinct needs in retirement, also. Interestingly, as men approach retirement, their planning needs tend to be less financial than emotional in nature—the opposite of what many would expect. Male Baby Boomers particularly, who have spent their lives in a culture that defines success by what they do or accomplish, are often reaching retirement with a self-understanding that may be poorly suited for the very different opportunities and challenges presented by the retirement lifestyle. And these emotional considerations come with some financial ramifications that deserve careful consideration

According to a recent study by sociologists at the University of Wisconsin, men’s focus tends to shift as they approach retirement from an orientation toward career to a greater interest in relationships. For women of similar age, such a shift is typically much less dramatic, since women tend to be more relationally focused anyway. But for men, the pivot toward family and friends, as opposed to work colleagues, represents a much more noticeable alteration.

And by the way, this shift is not confined to persons in the US. The University of Wisconsin study included surveys conducted throughout most of the Western world, including Spain, Sweden, Estonia, and other countries. Across the board, men indicated that they were becoming more dependent on family and other social relationships, while women largely indicated that they intended to do more of what they had already been doing (which, incidentally, included spending more time with grandchildren).

Part of the problem with this shift is that the modern concept of retirement as a period lasting decades is rather recent. Not so long ago, the expectation was that you worked until you couldn’t, and you didn’t live more than about five years after that point. As recently as 1960, for example, the average life expectancy for an American male was 66.6 years. Now, the average American male can expect to live to be nearly 79, and it is increasingly common for people to live well into their 90s.

What this means is that men approaching retirement need to think beyond the money (and the golf, fishing, or whatever other hobby they believe is going to be capable of soaking up all their newfound spare time). It’s great to anticipate the prospect of doing more of what we enjoy, but it’s also important to reflect on how your retirement lifestyle will contribute to your sense of meaning, fulfillment, and self-worth. What made you successful in the workplace may not be what helps you derive a sense of self-worth from this new phase of life.

The University of Wisconsin research also indicates that retired men, more than women, make the decision to transfer wealth to children or other family members. In some ways, this newfound attention to giving away assets may be a leftover from males’ traditional orientation toward being the provider for the family. The study indicates that the tendency toward transferring wealth was far more pronounced among men with more education and earning power. As men approach retirement, then, they may spend more time thinking about matters like estate planning and charitable initiatives.

At Empyrion Wealth Management, we work closely with thriving retirees and those nearing retirement to develop strategies for building a retirement lifestyle that reflects each client’s unique priorities and resources. To learn more, click here to read our “Financial Planning Checklist for Retirement.”

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