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Women Have More Positive Experiences, Negative Emotions About Retirement

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Women have more positive experiences in retirement but are also more stressed than men, according to a recent study by MassMutual Retirement Services.

The report found that female retirees were more likely than men to report negative emotions like frustration, sadness, nervousness and loneliness, despite the fact that they also more often have positive experiences like having new experiences and opportunities and having more time with friends.

“This came out of a survey where we were trying to find out how people’s expectations for retirement prior to retirement compared to their actual experiences in retirement,” Steve LaValley, head of research for MassMutual, told ThinkAdvisor on Tuesday. “We found people had high expectations for retirement in general and for the most part they were actually being fulfilled, although at somewhat lower levels in actual retirement.”

For example, LaValley said, respondents people thought they would be a little happier once they retired. “In reality, they were very happy, but not quite as happy as they thought they might be. Same thing on the negative side: The things that people would think of as negative, like, ‘I’m going to be bored,’ things of that nature, really were less in retirement” than they expected, he said.

Almost half of female pre-retirees said they were at least moderately stressed, compared with 38% of men. Stress fell significantly after retirement, but women still reported higher levels than male retirees: 20% versus 15%.

“What that told us is that women tend to experience both in the pre-retirement mode and the retirement mode the emotions a lot more — significantly more, in most cases — than men,” LaValley said.

He added that women have “what we would consider to be richer experiences in retirement. Women tended to more than men connect with their family and friends, even reinvent themselves, whatever that means to them individually. That may be taking up a hobby, a second career. They also just concentrated more on spending time with their friends. Those kinds of things really create the emotional ties to retirement, and those are the things that are really going to reduce your stress significantly.”

Interestingly, the report didn’t find a correlation between the level of retirement assets and emotional well-being, although respondents who had a defined contribution plan were more likely to report positive emotions than those without one.

LaValley said, “regardless of whether it had a huge balance or a really small balance, as long as they had [a retirement plan], they were in a much better emotional state.”

Additionally, as the further the respondents got into retirement, “the more the positives took over. People who were in retirement for 15 years tended to be far more happy, tended to be more connecting with their family and friends, things of that nature, than those who had just retired.”

The survey also asked respondents, who all had a minimum of $50,000 saved for retirement, about how they were preparing. “Those who were in the best position had been working with a financial advisor,” LaValley said. “Also, when we asked what is the single thing that best prepared you for retirement, financial advisor was pretty much right at the top of the list.”

According to the survey, 96% of pre-retirees and 93% of retirees who worked with an advisor said that person was helpful in preparing for retirement. Men were very slightly more likely to say their advisor was helpful — 94% compared with 93% — however, women were more likely than men to say their advisor was “very helpful” as opposed to “somewhat helpful: 65% versus 54%.

“Women have the bigger gap, and they also probably have the bigger challenge because they’re probably going to live longer and they’re probably going to have a lower balance to start with,” LaValley said. “I think what advisors can do is as they’re working with anybody who is at or near retirement is recognize that there’s both a financial and an emotional component and not everybody is exactly the same.”

The survey was conducted by Greenwald & Associates for MassMutual among 905 retirees and 912 pre-retirees in the 15-year period before or after retirement. Respondents were evenly split between men and women.

— Check out Are Women More Open to Dealing With the New? on ThinkAdvisor.