The Research

Successful Retirement:  From Retiring to Rewiring

What does that make you think?

If you are like most people and the research literature

     You are thinking about having enough money – and looking forward to enjoying free time without much thought to what retirement will actually look like.  Not thinking about significant concerns such as how to spend one’s time and money, finding purpose and the importance of friendships and social connections.  This website will address those often-overlooked quality of life factors that are so important to a successful retirement.

Until recently, many thought of 65 as the age of retirement. Sixty-five was the age legislated by the Social Security Act of 1935 as a time when individuals could start collecting “an old age benefit”  (Social Security Administration, Social Security Act of 1935). In 1935, life expectancy was 61. Currently, the average life expectancy is in the 80s (Social Security Administration, Benefits Planner/Life Expectancy). Life in retirement has the potential to be over 20 years.

 To address successful retirement, this website is based on a review of the scholarly research literature and my qualitative research doing interviews, focus groups and classes with retirees. Although my particular sample of over 125 retirees mostly from Santa Cruz and Silicon Valley is not random and is biased towards highly educated, above-average income retirees, and perhaps represents a more “ideal retirement,” it definitely represents real people.

The website is based on the assumption you have created or are creating the financial resources you need to retire.

Retirement is a stage of life(Horner, 2014) where one can arrive having earned and gained invaluable resources along the way. Goals change across the life span.  With age, although memory might not be what it used to be, research supports the important conclusion that emotional stability improves, knowledge has grown and expertise deepened (Carstensen, 2014; Carstensen, Mikels & Mahers, 2006).  In important ways, older people can contribute more than younger people.

The research literature finds significant individual differences among retirees in satisfaction and happiness, but that for most retirees, life in retirement is better or the same as it was before (Blendon, et al., 2011; Carstensen, 2014; Carstensen, 2011; & Carstensen, et al., 2006). More specifically, the research finds that retirement can start with a great honeymoon phase, may proceed to a steep decline in happiness, and then usually stabilizes (Horner, 2014) with as much happiness as one had while working. In contrast with the general finding of a honeymoon period, there is an initial decline in satisfaction for those who retired earlier than expected (Hershey & Henkens, 2013).  Depending on the survey, up to 25% experience difficulty adjusting (van Solinge, 2013, p319), 10% are not at all satisfied, and retirement satisfaction tends to decrease as people age (Banerjee, 2016).  This is true regardless of the age the person retires. Retirees with higher net worth and better health report higher retirement satisfaction (Banerjee, 2016).

The goal for this website is to get you educated and involved in thinking about and planning for this stage of life, ideally, before and after you retire. The point is you’re never too young to think about retirement, and never too old to make it better.

The primary findings associated with retirement adjustment and happiness include: 

     *  Having a sense of control over the decision to retire improves the retirement experience;

     *  Planning, goal-directedness, implementing some projects and activities before retiring, having social and internet networks, and having a sense of purpose – in addition to material resources – increase the likelihood of successful retirement including better health;

      *  Retirement can affect men and women differently;

      *  Retirement can create stress for the couple;

      *  “Going Solo” is likely at some point; and

       *  Use of financial resources and time changes

Several people from my sample who are actually living the dream and avoiding the funk are used to illustrate the research.

     Arthur – a software engineer responsible for developing text messaging during his 12 years at Google, retired at 47. Listening to the people who said – if you have the chance, be with your family, especially when your children are young. Arthur and his wife both took that chance as well as the chance to have time to do something else, totally their own way. He is home with his wife and daughter – and is fully engaged in his computer science projects.

     Cindy -now in her 70s, retired in her 60s from her position as a university professor and administrator. She is actively involved in volunteer positions with children, is on the Board of University of California at Santa Cruz’s Osher Life Long Learners and runs the photography interest group.  Cindy spends time traveling, visiting her granddaughter, and lives at home with her second husband.

     Leslie a clinical psychologist, retired as Director of Mental Health when she was in her 60s.  Plans for her retirement with her husband were ended abruptly as he suddenly died. Not long after, her dog died. Leslie says that “her life has hit a rhythm that seems to make sense – part-time work on a state project, teaching meditation, spending time with friends, running a couple of mentoring groups, and reading and hanging out with her ipad in cafes.  I know this is a transition time but I don’t feel in so much of a hurry to “finish” figuring anything out about defining this time, … it’s a process.”

What is Retirement?

The literature tends to define and discuss retirement as a discrete point in time (Blendon et al., 2011; Kubicek, Korunka, Raymo & Hoonakker, 2011).  It tends to be seen as a clear point when the person stops working. That was true and typical of how retirement was historically but is no longer the case. For many, the boundary between work and retirement has becomeunclear.Retirement is now an evolving process and for many, it takes the form of being self-employed or working for someone else, for purpose or to give back rather than accumulate more wealth. (Brown, Aumann, Pitt-Catsouphes, Galinsky & Bond, 2010; Freedman, 2011; Lawrence-Lightfoot, 2009).  More older people are working longer (Hayutin, Beals & Borges, 2013). Of those who do stop working completely, about 30% unretire within six years of retiring (Cahill, Giandria, & Quinn, 2015).

UC emeriti faculty are a good example. The Council of the University of California Emeriti Associations reports “…viewed in aggregate, the teaching, the scholarship and the community work of UC emeriti during this period (2015-2018) is equivalent to that of a major university. Their contributions to the mission of the University of California amount to a virtual eleventh campus” (Council of University of California Emeriti Associations” (CUCEA), 2018, p1). “After twenty years or more of retirement, half of the responders are still making contributions” (CUCEA, 2018, p4). Retirees of many other occupations and professions would probably point to comparable contributions in their own realms.

Changes in how people retire are changing the demographics of the U.S. workforce. According to employment statistics, the older workforce is growing more rapidly than the younger workforce (Drake, 2014) including an aging of the Science and Engineering labor force (National Science Board. 2014). Fifty-five and older is the only age group where workforce participation rates have been rising which is in contrast to past decades of decline (Cahill, Giandrea & Quinn, 2013).Those with more education are likely to work longer.(Health and Retirement Study, 2018, p 22). The Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College (Brown et al., 2010), reports that in the general population, one in five workers aged 50 and older has a retirement job; the mean age of those working in retirement is 63.  

For those in the Science and Engineering sector, in spite of the perceived and actual pressure for older workers to retire (Brooke, 2009) there is a trend toward a rising median age. In 2010, the median age of scientists and engineers in the labor force was 44 years compared to 41 in 1993. In 2010, one in three science and engineering workers were over 50 compared to one in five in 1993.

Research supports (Brooke, 2009) that there can be pressure for older computer scientists to go into management or retire because of the assumption that older engineers’ minds aren’t as quick as younger ones.  However, Brooke’s research and my responders suggest that the real issue with age is that one’s priorities change. People may no longer be willing to work the intense hours they once did.

Working in retirement used to be an oxymoron and is now becoming the new normal (Brown et al., 2010).

Sense of Control: The Decision of When and How to Retire

 Having a sense of control over the decision to retire (Calvo, Haverstick & Sass, 2009: Wolinsky, Wyrwich, Babu, Kroenke & Tierney, 2003), including how andwhen to retire, can affect the person’s ability to plan, and is correlated with higher levels of self-efficacy, mental well-being and how well people take care of their health (Novak, 2011; Wolinsky et al., 2003) as well as with higher levels of income (Calvo et al., 2009). In terms of finances and sense of control, research finds that having a pension helps people make the decision to retire, and helps retirees feel more in control of their lives and more secure and happy with being retired (Blendon, et al., 2011; Calvo et al., 2009).  Forced retirement,on the other hand, is a predictor of adjustment problems and can have negative effects on the retired worker and their spouse or partner (van Solinger & Henkens, 2005).

A significant factor associated with stopping work is self-reported poor health. (Aaron & Callan, 2011).  Gaining self-knowledge, on the other hand, is correlated with being less likely to engage in post-retirement employment (Fasbender, Wang & Wiernik, 2014).  Some of the literature supports the finding that transitioning into retirement with bridge employment is associated with better physical and mental health in comparison with full retirement (Kubicek et al., 2011).  Other research finds no significant difference between bridge and full retirement.

Overall, the literature is consistent in the finding that what matters most is whether the person perceives the retirement decision as chosen or forced (Calvo et al., 2009).

Perceived control increases with education, wealth and socio economic status (Calvo & Sarkisian, April 2011; Mitchell, Ailshire, Brown, Levine & Crimmins, 2016).Advantaged individuals accumulate more opportunites for controlling their transitions through life (Mirowsky & Ross, 2007).

 Planning, Goal-Directedness and Implementing

 Another consistent research finding is that retirement tends to be easier for people who are goal-oriented and therefore able to plan what to do once they have retired (Kubicek et al., 2011).  Planning is correlated with higher retirement satisfaction and better adjustment (Kubicek et al. 2011; Taylor & Doverspike, 2003).  People who are conscientious are associated with the positive life outcomes of earning more, having more positive emotions and life satisfaction (Duckworth, Weir, Tsukayama & Kwok, 2012); whereas people who are more agreeable correlate with lower income, fewer financial resources and lower life satisfaction (Duckworth et al., 2012).

 In addition to being goal oriented and able to plan, some other consistent predictors of well being in retirement include: flexibility in goal adjustment and tenacity in goal pursuit as well as the ability to deal with failure/loss (Kubicek, et al. 2011).  Elliot Aronson, Ph.D., a social psychologist, known especially for his work on cognitive dissonance talked to me about what he did when he was working and learned he was going blind. Soon after hearing his diagnosis, while still sighted and working, Elliot proactively obtained training to walk with a white cane, training to live with and work with a service dog, prepared his computer to be able to read text to him and moved to downtown Santa Cruz with his wife so that he could remain independent and walk everywhere. Elliot has been able to continue doing his research as well as stay in touch with his colleagues and friends. After many years of giving up teaching because he could no longer see his students, at age 81, Elliot began teaching again. He started co-teaching his social influence course with me and then continued to teach by himself.

My research also finds that implementing anything before retiring correlates with higher satisfaction. Those 20% who self-reported being most satisfied all implemented some activities before they retired. It does not matter what the person implements (e.g. taking classes at the university, volunteering) or whether the person continues with that particular activity after retiring, it is the process of planning and implementing that helps the retiree approach their new found time with meaning and structure. Implementing engages the person in actively doing something to figure out how to make the transitions and subsequent time in retirement more successful.

Arthur told me a story that he said made him realize he had to carefully plan if he was going to retire.

The story involved a 103 years old woman who retired at age 50 and advised: “Before you retire, make sure you know what you are going to do. Don’t just jump off a cliff so to speak and try to figure it out after you’ve left. It doesn’t mean that what you are going to do is what you planned to do, but have a plan or it can be very disorienting not to have one.  Arthur took her advice and started thinking about retirement many years before he retired. Two years before retirement, Arthur started planning. He wrote down three categories: projects he wanted to work on; goals he wanted to achieve; and Descriptions of what he wanted a typical day to be like. He knew being concrete and specific was important. He identified smaller steps to achieve the goals. Arthur put the conditions in place to work on his own projects before he retired. Creating a routine continues to help and guide his day.

Before retiring, Leslie took on retiring as “A Project.” She observed and learned from other retired people She asked retirees what worked for them and what hasn’t worked for them. To recover from the deaths of her husband and dog, she reordered her thinking. Instead of planning for months and years, she now plans each day by including the following “elements:” physical activity, social connection, meditation, creativity (e.g. writing, cooking, going to a musical activity), and service to others.

Cindy took control of her retirement by planning for 10 years before she retired, including changing positions at the university to take on less responsibility and leave more time for transition. She took classes at the university to explore other interests and began volunteering to incorporate meaningful endeavors that would add structure and social interactions in retirement and could help avoid the potential dip of facing a blank week.

It may be that planning and implementing increase the sense of control that is associated with a successful retirement.

However, according to current social security information, future retirees do not plan for the decision very long (Knoll, 2011). According to the 2008 Employee Benefit Research Institute report (MacDonald, 2008), 22 percent of survey respondents first began to think about the retirement decision six months before they left their jobs. Another 22% spent only a year thinking about the retirement decision. Abraham and Houseman (2004) using data from the 1992-2000 Health and Retirement Survey (HRS) found the most common response (38%) regarding planning for retirement, was – “not much thought or had no plans” (p 9).

Many responders reflected the literature that most pre-retirees, especially women, may underestimate the challenges of retirement (Blendon et al., 2011) and wished they had planned more (Moen, Erickson, Agarwal, Fields & Todd. 2000). “Graduation” to this new stage in life, can come too early, too abruptly, and be quite difficult.

High achieving retirees like Arthur can be focused and self-driven and make excellent decisions and plans. The research supports the generalization that these people will use the same approach of dealing with the “problem situation” of retirement that they used with other problems to be solved in their careers (Martin & Lee, 2015).

However, the literature on behavioral economics finds that people are not good at accurately predicting their future happiness and behavior, which can lead to less than optimal retirement decisions (Knoll, 2011). For example, results from the EBRI Retirement Confidence Surveys (Helman  Greenwald, Copeland & VanDerhei, 2010; Retirement Confidence Survey, 2019) indicate that 41% of people retire earlier than expected (only 5% later).  The majority of workers, up to 72%, in the Retirement Confidence Survey indicated that they plan to work after age 65, while only 27% actually do (Helman et al., 2010). The median expected age of retirement is 65 while the median actual age is 62.

The main points to take away are, to start planning for retirement, when it is far in the future, and you can focus on critical aspects with more data, more rational and clear thinking, and can start implementingsomethings – and – once retired, take the time to think and reflect, keep assessing what you are doing to figure out what is working and what changes might be needed. 

For those who don’t plan ahead, their efforts may be hit and miss.

Staying Connected to Social Networks and the Internet

Having social networks (Kubicek et al., 2011) as well as internet connectedness (Cardale & Brady, 2010; Novak, 2011) are vital at any time in life and definitely in retirement. Carstensen’s socioemotional selectivity theoryposits that older adults shift priorities to stronger, emotionally rewarding ties vs. cultivating new relationships, and that one’s perspective and sense of time changes to how much time one has left (Carstensen 2014; Carstensen et al., 2006). “Spending time with other adults enhances older adults capabilities, life satisfaction, general well-being, health” (Sayer, Feldman & Bianchi, 2016, p217) and sense of mattering (Froidevaux, Hirschi & Wang, 2016).  Perceptions of positive social relationships are associated with greater involvement in leisure activities; and greater involvement in leisure activities is correlated with better health in old age (Chang, Wray & Lin, 2014).Those with higher education have more leisure and enjoy it more.

This is a time in life when people can experience many losses.  The retirees world can shrink like Elliot’s– from ending work, declining health, death of loved ones including pets, and moves (Cornwell, Laumann & Schumm, 2008; Novak, 2011).  Consequently, socialrobotics including robotic pets is a growing field (Klinenberg, 2012).

Arthur and otherswho left tech, talked about the issue of a “tech bubble” – unlike academia, for example, which encourages emeritus professors to come back and work with colleagues, tech tends to protect its secrets and excludes workers who leave from information and getting together.

Arthur’s biggest fear of leaving Google was loss of companionship and isolation from other people in technology, especially tech people who liked talking tech. Being aware of this concern, Arthur proactively worked on maintaining meaningful friendships at Google by scheduling ongoing lunches and developed new friendships through his tech meet-ups.

Communications onlinecan also help. One report by economists (at the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Policy Studies) finds that older people using the internet experience a 20% reduction in depression (Klinenberg, 2012). Older people tend to use the internet to disseminate information, meet people and strengthen ties (Xie, Huang & Watkins, 2013). Therefore, being open to others and staying connected in person, by email or video chats are especially important at this stage (Change et al., 2014; Novak, 2011).

Leslie, no longer having a husband for emotional support, deepened her relationships, developed new friendships and started using an ipad as a journal, a way to stay current, and as a way to stay in touch with her sons and grandchild who live in other states.

Sense of Purpose –

The role of mattering (Froidevaux &Wang, 2016) and having a sense of purpose (Strecher, 2016)have important roles for physical health, well-being and decreased mortality in retirement (Alimujiang, et al., 2019; Kim, Hershner, & Strecher, 2015; Kim, Sun, Park, Kubzansky & Peterson, 2013; Seligman 2011; Kim, Victor & Ryff, 2014; Windsor, Curtis & Luszcz, 2015).  Purpose is defined in the research as “a self-organizing life aim that stimulates goals, promotes healthy behaviors, and gives meaning to life” (Alimujiang et al., 2019, p.2). The research on purpose in life finds that lack of purpose contributes at least as much to disease and death as do lifestyle factors such as tobacco use, poor diet, inactivity, and stress (Strecher, 2016, p13). With strong purpose in life, individuals seem to do better psychologically, socially, sleeping, sexually, are less likely to become depressed, and are more relaxed (Hamblin, 2014; Hill & Turiano, 2014; Kim, Hershner & Strecher, 2015; Kim, Sun, Park, Kubzansky & Peterson, 2013; Kim, Sun, Park & Peterson, 2013, Strecher, 2016).  A strong sense of “ikigai,” which means a joy and sense of well-being from being alive and realizing the value of being alive, is associated with a lower risk of incident functional disability (Mori et al., 2017; Sone et al., 2008).  Elizabeth Blackburn, the 2009 Nobel Prize winner in medicine, and her colleagues found that having a purpose in life was associated with telomere (the ends of chromosomes) length and therefore better health and less risk of dying (Blackburn & Epel, 2017; Strecher, 2016).

Purpose in life can determine goals and thus influence daily decisions regarding the use of one’s resources (Irving, Davis & Collier, 2017, p 2). As one researcher put it, purpose can foster “efficiency of action” (Irving et al, 2017 p 27).  Individuals with a high sense of purpose may adapt more effectively through changing environmental and life conditions (Hill, Turiano, Spiro & Mroczek, 2015).

“Purpose can be derived from relationships, societal, work or familial roles, pursuit of personal goals, maintaining independence, generativity, community engagement, or participation in activities that are individually meaningful and relevant” (Irving et al, 2017, p 2) “

Arthur says “Purpose is paramount…having a basic purpose clearly in mind has been absolutely essential to my mental well-being. There’s almost nothing worse than feeling adrift.”

Leslie did not have to find purpose, she merely shifted it. In her working life, Leslie directly administered mental health service. In retirement, she stepped back and finds meaning in providing support and mentoring to a younger generation. She teaches mindfulness classes to people living in assisted living, staff working in non-profits and lawyers and mentors the staff of an organization instead of working directly with clients. Leslie says “Bringing one’s gifts to meet the needs of the world, joy is felt.” 

However, the literature shows that purpose declines with age (Irving et al. 2017; Pinquart, 2002). The literature suggests that age is not the significant factor, but rather age-related losses (eg. death of partner, retirement) and decreased opportunities for meaningful engagement (Irving et al. 2017).

Health Issues related to neurocognitive disorders

Health issues, a significant factor for enjoying life at any age, affect retirement decisions and life in retirement. It is not possible to cover all the health issues of aging in this one short presentation. However, because of the widespread concerns related to neurocognitive disorders (e.g. Alzheimer’s Dementia) and aging, including the emotional, physical and financial costs, a few points will be covered here.

Factors associated with education and school success appear to have relevance in a discussion of retirement. Although higher educational levels correlate with protection against cognitive decline in older age, the rate of decline is the same as those with less education (Alley, Suthers & Crimmins, 2007; Health & Retirement Study, 2018).  The benefits of education for dementia risk appear to span generations. For example, those with a mother with less than an 8thgrade education, have an increased risk of dementia (Rogers et al., 2009).  More recently, it has been found that educational quality may be even more important in establishing and maintaining cognitive abilities (Mehta et al., 2009). People who report doing well in school, regardless of level completed, are associated with a much lower risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimers Dementia. At this stage of research, our understanding of dementia and who is susceptible are limited.

Some differences in the experience of retirement between men and women

In some aspects, retirement affects men and women differently (Kubicek, et al., 2011). For women, there is a negative effect of a lifetime of household and caretaking on planning for retirement, earnings, and retirement income (Sayer, Freedman & Bianchi, 2016).  Consequently, economic insecurity in old age is particularly acute among single, divorced and widowed women even though women tend to retire later than men (Sayer et al., 2016). 

For many women, retirement isn’t as satisfactory as it is for their male partners/spouse because retirement may not relieve the burdens of family life.  Women often continue to do the household and caretaking work for their spouse/partner/elderly parents/adult children/grandchildren/siblings (Coursolle, Sweeney, Rayno & Ho, 2010; Sayer et al., 2016; Suitor, Gilligan & Pillemer, 2016; Wink & James, 2013).  Work may have been the women’s source of emotional support and limited the amount of time they could spend dealing with family responsibilities and conflicts (Courselle et al., 2010).  Lyu and Burr (2016) found that for women, the birth of a new grandchild correlates with more than an 8% increase in the chances of retiring. However, some research finds that women can enjoy being grandmothers more when they worked than in retirement (Calvo, et al., 2009)Caring for a spouse has a significant impact on the time of retiring; a woman with an ill husband is five times more likely to retire; a man with a sick wife is 50% slower to retire (Griffin, Loh & Hesketh, 2013).  Clearly, domestic responsibilities continue and often increase for women during retirement.

For men, leaving a job that was very satisfactory is associated with more difficult retirement adjustments than for women (Kubicek et al., 2011). After retirement, men are generally not as good as women at substituting the social involvements they had when they were working (Kubicek et al., 2011). Men can end up feeling like they do not have enough friends. On the other hand, research suggests that males report higher levels of purpose than females (Irving et al, 2015; Pinquart, 2002).

As a result of a lifetime of gender roles and expectations, once retired, women tend to do more housework, volunteer more than men and spend more time with others, while men are more likely to have bridge employment, leisure activities (Griffin et al., 2013) and rely on their partners for social connection.

Couples’ issues

In terms of couples’ issues, Google’s past CFO Patrick Pichette expressed it best upon giving his leaving notice, when he said  “Tamar and I will be celebrating our 25thanniversary. When our kids are asked by their friends about the success of the longevity of our marriage, they simply joke that Tamar and I have spent so little time together that it’s really too early to tell if our marriage will in fact succeed (Interview with Larry Page, March 10, 2015).”   

The transition to retirement can be difficult for couples (Coursolle, Sweeney, Raymor & Ho, 2010; Calvo, Haverstick & Sass, 2009; van Solinge & Henkens, 2005; Moen et al., 2000). The early transition period is associated with conflict and declines in marital quality (Moen et al., 2000).  Although married retirees usually have better psychological well-being than single or widowed retirees (Wang & Shi, 2014; MetLife Study, 2010), this beneficial effect disappears if one of the spouses is still working — with the most dissatisfied couple situation being when the wife is still working and the husband has retired (Griffin et al., 2013).  Afterthe adjustment period, being married and retired with some joint leisure activities correlates with happiness (Calvo et al., 2009).  Interestingly, although over three-quarters of partners expect to engage in more activities together, less than half do (Matthews & Fisher, 2013, p362).

Having both people at home all the time created problems for some couples.Sixty-eight percent of my research participants, especially women, expressed what the research found (vanSolinge & Henkens, 2005): space/togethernesscan be an issue and wives tend to encourage their husbands/male partners to get involved with something meaningful outside of the house. These women felt like their home environment changed in a way that curtailed some of their freedoms. Among non-employed women at least 65, living with a spouse increases household and care work by one hour per day with most of the time spent cooking and cleaning (Sayer et al., 2016).

Partners who take care of partners with dementia may be at risk for cognitive decline, more so than partners who take care of partners with other problems (Dassel, Carr & Vitaliano, 2015). Women with dementia are much less likely to receive informal care at home (Katz, Kabeto & Langa, 2000); of those women and men receiving informal care at home, children are the most likely to provide care for their mothers and wives provide care for their husbands.

“Going Solo”

In contrast with the standard “couples” model, living alone or “going solo” is a growing phenomenon (Klinenberg, 2012).Currently, 28% of all US households are made up of people living alone  “which means that they are now tied with childless couples as the most prominent residential type – more common than the nuclear family, the multigenerational family, the roommate or group home” (Klinenberg, 2012, p5). A greater proportion of individuals reaching retirement are unmarried.One in three Baby Boomers is unmarried and lives alone. (Klinenberg, 2012, p157, p16)Women tend to live longer, marry older men and consequently can live their last 15-20 years as widows (HRS, 2018).

Even though being unmarried makes one more vulnerable to social isolation, loneliness, health problems and being economically disadvantaged, those living alone are healthier than those living with adults other than a spouse, or even, in some cases, than those living with a spouse (Klinenberg, 2012, p17). In recent decades older people have demonstrated a clear preference for living alone rather than moving in with family or friends, having “intimacy at a distance.” (Klinenberg, 2012,p162). Today, only 20% of elderly widows live with a child vs. up to 70% in the past (Klinenberg, 2012, p162).In terms of coupling, one woman expressed the research that “she’s more interested in having someone to go out with than someone to come home to” (Klinenberg, 2012,p163).  Consequently, compared to people who live with partners, people who live alone become more socially active and involved in their community (Klinenberg, 2012, p163). The picture is complex and defies simple description.

Donna, a retired university instructor who divorced several years ago, explains “I wasn’t planning on wanting to go solo. I didn’t choose it or embrace it, but I did accept it and grow into it. Since I’ve always lived with people, I found–once I got comfortable–a real sense of peace and gratitude. To have the space and place called home, to make all the choices my choices, with the most basic of things– what/when to eat, arrange flowers, turn up or down the music. These were the good, welcomedand even kind of fun areas of personal freedom I had never previously experienced. And maybe, since toward the end of my marriage, with an ongoing coolness and quiet tension, it felt good to be solo. Cleaner. There is a less attractive side. Every decision is mine and not shared with a different perspective or support. Sometimes that feels a bit burdensome. I do hope to be back in an intimate relationship. Until that time, I have romance, like a seasoning—maybe curry–here and there, now and then. It has always been nice and something to appreciate.”

Leslie expresses much appreciation for her new friendships as she says “I’m letting friends become a stronger part of my life, sharing in my vulnerable moments and my rough edges in ways I’d previously saved for my life partner.”

Bill, a retired physician, is having a much tougher time and said since his wife died three years ago,he relies a lot on his adult daughter andcontinues to experiences much loneliness.

Using One’s Money/Financial Resources

Many people come into retirement financially under-prepared; they have little savings (Diamond & Hausman, 1984) and are not correctly informed about their pensions and Social Security Benefits (Gustman & Steinmeier, 2004) even though older consumers are identified as having larger household assets and more disposable income than younger consumers (Yoon & Cole, 2008).

How retirees spend money changes. As people age, spending increases for health care services, donations and gifts and decreases for transportation, vacations and trips. (Hurd & Rohwedder, 2010 )  In the beginning of retirement, for those more fortunate, with increased finances and time, travel increases (Hurd and Rohwedder, 2010.  Americans over 50 account for 45% of all leisure trips in the US and 70% of all cruise passengers (Moody and Sood, 2010).  Spending steadily decreases with age (Banerjee, S., 2012) with declines in spending appearing to diminish through the first years. 

Entertainment/leisure spending, is the only type of expenditure positively related to happiness due in part from an increase in social connections (DeLaire & Kalil, 2010). Older consumers report being more satisfied with their purchases (Yoon, Feinberg & Schwarz, 2010).

Individuals spend differently than couples (Hurd & Rohwedder, 2010). Couples, in general, have more money to spend and spend proportionately less on goods such as housing. However, decision making about how to use one’s resources is more complicated for couples.  Research discussing who in the couple makes the final say in terms of financial decisions, finds that 44% report both individuals and 35% disagree about who makes the final say (Barbiarz, Robb & Woodyard, 2012).  For various reasons, older people report increasing their financial help to their adult children and others, including siblings.

Satisfaction with life increases for those who report having discussed retirement with their partners and had some type of tax-deferred retirement plan (Noone, Stephens & Alpass, 2009).

Using One’s Time 

Working on how to spend the day can be an ongoing issue. The research says that people need strategies like Arthur, Cindy, and Leslie implement to support achieving their goals as well as strategies to cope with failure of not achieving goals. (Kubicek, 2011; Schale & Willis, 2010).  Exercise continues to be an important component of mental and physical well being (Simone & Haas, 2009).

The literature says volunteeringcan be especially beneficial at this stage (Moen et al., 2000), and is cited as one of the things that make people happy (Cornwell, Laumann & Schumm, 2008). However, finding volunteer work that is fulfilling isn’t always easy. There may be a lot of volunteer opportunities, but not necessarily at the level of responsibility the person is used to. The literature finds that when volunteering, women tend to assume the role of helping and men assume administrative roles (Dorfman, 2012). People with more social capital are the ones most likely to volunteer. The literature on managers says that they, like Leslie, find mentoring deeply satisfying, especially those situations with more long-term ongoing relationships (Martin & Lee, 2015).  Further, retirees involved for generative reasons, working for teaching and sharing knowledge with the younger generation, experience improved psychological well-being (Wang & Shi, 2014).“Innovators” who start new activities have an even higher rate of satisfaction (Dorfman, 2012). 

Retirees are involved in a wide variety of activities, some continuing with extensions of their previous work like Elliot Aronson and others finding involvements outside of their careers. For example, some are taking courses not related to their previous work, others are learning piano and foreign language.  Some are gaining new skills working with international students helping them with their English while others are working with children who have been abused or as docents teaching about ocean life.

One of my research responders, Eric, earned his degree in Art and Architecture from MIT and ended up spending his career working and being a faculty in early childhood education. Upon retiring, he is using both of his interests, designing and making wooden toys for all ages and writing children’s books. One married couple in my research, Paula and Jim Faris,both in their 90s, met at MGM in Hollywood working on Tom and Jerry cartoons. After retiring from a career as a film editor, Jim, along with four others, started University of California, Santa Cruz’s Osher Life Long Learners (OLLI) 30 years ago when he and Paula first retired and moved to Santa Cruz. Additionally, Jim and Paula started and kept up the Film Group they ran in their home for over 25 years until one week before Jim died this past year. Maurice and Rachel Enzer are French and live in Paris.  By age 91, Maurice completed nine books, was working on another one, and only started writing after he retired from his work as an engineer. Rachel retired after a 40 year career as a psychologist and became an art student at the Louvre.

Dusty had been finding much joy with her husband Craig traveling on their own and leading group trips for UCSC’s Life Long Learners, a need for many retirees who have the resources and time to finally travel but no one to travel with. Craig, candidly said, “Now that I’m retired, I hope I don’t die early.”  He didn’t die but he did have a stroke and can no longer lead trips.  

UC Emerita are involved in unique and prestigious experiences in addition to the ongoing publishing and teaching. For example, one emerita was honored at a concert featuring her own compositions, another is making violins, another received a Nobel Prize and another NASA’s highest honors. Another retired professor writes of the onset of dementia and how it has slowed down his scholarly work (CUCEA, 2018, p.8).  

Others, who said they “figured out” how to enjoy retirement, are now realizing that they are “missing something” and are having to once again determine what they want to do that is meaningful and fulfilling.  One female retired professor and a male retired CEO both expressed how “the first year long weekend was great, but now what?” They and others illustrate Horner’s research findings that retirement can start great with a honeymoon phase, then happiness has a steep decline (Horner, 2014).

The Environment

 Most participants made a point of saying how much they liked and valued Santa Cruz as a great place for retirement which supports the research that one’s environment is important for a successful retirement (Blendon et al., Sept 2011). How older people feel about their neighborhood is important for positive mental health; neighborhood SES has a strong and consistent relationship with a range of health outcomes for older people (Aneshensel, Harig & Wight, 2016, pp 321, 323). Environments that allow older people to feel safe, to walk, to exercise or go to favorite destinations, contribute to greater physical activity and lower rates of overweight, depression and alcohol abuse (Aneshensel et al., 2016, p 326). Not surprisingly, what appears to be important throughout one’s life, is important for retirees.

Santa Cruz has safe and beautiful places to walk, independent bookstores, libraries, etc. Many also love the ocean and the chance to do things like go kayaking as I am doing in the photo with my dog Herbie whom I was finally able to get because I retired.

Additionally, most of my responders emphasized the significance of OLLI at UCSC for the social connections, opportunities to make friends, find a sense of purpose and contribute back. They also emphasized that being involved in a world class university makes it easier to remain lifelong learners.


Although this sample of highly educated, above-average income retirees is not representative of all retirees and perhaps represents a more “ideal retirement,” the responders are role models of “regular people” successfully enjoying retirement and illustrate some significant learning points raised in the research literature.

Most retirees are largely satisfied with this stage of life (Horner, 2014) even with satisfaction decreasing over time. 

Having sufficient financial resources, a sense of control, being goal-directed, planning for retirement, implementing some projects and involvements before retiring, having concrete strategies to deal with goals and losses and having supportive social and tech connections are all factors associated with having a more purposeful and successful retirement, including better health and being better prepared for dealing with changes in their finances, time, health and relationships. Retirement, like other developmental stages, takes adequate financial resources, planning and reflection, and is an ongoing process of multiple and cumulative transitions (Calvo & Sarksisian, 2011; Wang, Henkens & van Solinge, 2011).

The Beatles said it best, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”


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