Increased life expectancy in conjunction with record numbers of Baby Boomers departing the workforce yields a population that will spend a great deal of time retired. After decades of labor force participation, it is hardly surprising that one’s identity is typically enmeshed with occupation, even in retirement. After exiting the labor market, individuals often face a disorienting role loss and must navigate emotional, financial, physical, and familial ramifications. This study explores how the varied experiences men and women have during their working lives influence well-being and identity in retirement. Existing narratives imply this role loss would pose a greater identity threat to men exiting high status occupations who consequently have lower well-being in retirement. Drawing on twenty in-depth interviews conducted in the California Bay Area, I find that women exiting successful careers or who strongly associate with their professional identity surprisingly reported more difficulties adjusting to retirement than men. For most, letting go of a professional role is challenging in its own right. But, for women, losing a professional identity forged amidst labor market discrimination and structural inequality poses unique challenges, which negatively impact well-being in later life. This paper finds that the decision to retire as well as the loss of connection and status, leisure guilt, and social anonymity experienced after exiting the labor force are gendered phenomena which intersect to produce a ‘his’ and ‘hers’ experience of contemporary US retirement.
Retirement, Gender, Well-Being, Identity, Labor Force Inequality, Elderly Lifestyles
Social and Cultural Perspectives on Aging
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session
PhD Candidate, Sociology, Stanford University, United States