September 6, 2013

Spouses Who Plan Together Are Best Prepared to Retire: Behavioral Study

Research shows that couples who discuss retirement goals enjoy better psychological well-being and financial stability

Spouses who plan ahead and share with each other how they envision their retirement report a better sense of psychological well-being and financial stability after leaving their work lives behind, according to a recent University of Missouri study.

The new behavioral research from a university health and retirement study of 1,028 dual-earner couples shows that spouses tend to have similar levels of planning for retirement, and this planning and discussion can lead to more success and less stress when they leave the work force.

“The transition into retirement, in some ways, is like the transition into parenthood,” said Angela Curl, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri School of Social Work, in a statement. “When couples prepare to become parents, they do a lot of planning for the future. They spend time thinking, ‘How might our relationship change? How will our lives be different, and what do we need to do to accommodate this life change?’ It’s the same way with retirement. It affects so many different areas of life, and by preplanning, couples can make retirement a more positive experience.”

The Clinical Gerontologist published Curl’s article, “Anticipatory Socialization for Retirement: A Multilevel Dyadic Model,” earlier this year. Jerry Ingram, an associate professor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, co-authored the study.

Curl's analysis of the data from the health and retirement study included information from married couples who were 45 and older and worked full or part time. She found that when one spouse planned, the other spouse also planned, and even though husbands planned more often than wives, the spouses influenced each other.

Older age, being white, earning higher income and possessing greater retirement wealth all predicted a greater likelihood of “anticipatory socialization,” or thinking about and discussing retirement, between husbands and wives, the study found.

For wives specifically, having a health problem that limited work, a husband with higher occupational status, and a husband who was looking forward to retirement predicted more anticipatory socialization. For husbands specifically, higher education, more depressive symptoms, and lower occupational status predicted more anticipatory socialization.

“On commercials, retirement is portrayed as a life of golfing, relaxing or walking along beaches together,” Curl said. “Sometimes individuals have unrealistic expectations about what retirement will be like. Individuals can envision retirement one way, but if their spouses don’t envision retirement the same way, it can be problematic. Talking to your spouse about retirement before you leave the workforce is important in reducing conflict.”

While retirement is correlated with income, even individuals with little or no income need to discuss preparations for their older years, Curl added.

“Many times, adults might not think about what it actually means to be retired, or they think about retirement in abstract terms,” Curl said. “Individuals need to plan for retirement in more concrete ways. If individuals want to volunteer when they’re retired, they might ask themselves where and how often they will volunteer. Having specific plans and steps to follow will help individuals enter retirement with more success.”

Read Olivia Mitchell: You Might Live to 100. Will Your Money? at ThinkAdvisor.

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