Economic Crisis Forces Women to Adapt to the "New Normal"

By Dennis, Helen; Bratter, Bernice | Aging Today, September/October 2009 | Go to article overview

Economic Crisis Forces Women to Adapt to the "New Normal"


Dennis, Helen, Bratter, Bernice, Aging Today


Women talk. And now, amid the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, they're talking a lot about money. And, as the economic downturn has descended heavily on mid-life and older women's psyches, purses, behaviors and dreams, they're also talking about change.

Poverty and old age essentially are women's issues. By the time they turn age 65, women are nearly twice as likely as older men to be poor and to live alone. In 2008, the annual median income for women ages 65 and older was $11,816. And 90% of all women, at some time in their lives, will be totally responsible for their own financial welfare.

Money and change were the two topics most frequently discussed among the participants in Project Renewment, small groups of women who are shaping their next 30 years of life. These women, all professionals, have been affected. Many have made healthy changes in their daily lives: Exercise has become a mainstay.

Discussions have increased about finances, and attending financial seminars holds greater appeal. The challenge of either remaining in the workforce or finding new employment has become an agenda item.

ANSWERS FORTHE DARKEST HOURS

Women have unique ways to cope and manage with change. We recently conducted a workshop with the intention of discussing retirement issues for career women. But because of the economy, our discussion took a different turn.

Most of the 50 women who attended the workshop were stressed, depressed and worried about their financial future. They were not concerned about finding meaning and purpose in their next chapter of life. When we changed the agenda to discuss their concerns, we asked what had gotten them through their darkest hours. Their answers were inspiring.

The importance of having spiritual beliefs and faith applied to most. Many expressed the need to five in the present, focus on what's working right and appreciate what you have. Others mentioned the importance of friends - both male and female. "One day at a time" was a shared mantra.

Eliminating physical and emotional clutter helped many women stay focused. Some found solace in pets. Others found that doing something especially adventurous, such as skydiving, was a great distraction. Appreciating nature provided relief (as did one favorite coping mechanism: ice cream).

A big difficulty for these independent women was to ask for - and accept - help.

Volunteering and being with those less fortunate provided the women with what they considered a healthy perspective.

WOMEN BANDTOGETHER

The women of Project Renewment realize that challenge and change are not new to them. They have became more aware of their personal strengths and tenacity - lifelong traits for not only surviving, but thriving and renewing themselves.

Women support each other in difficult times. Beyond emotional support, our women shared practical ideas to lower expenses without sacrificing pleasure and joy. Instead of buying costly tickets to the opera and city-based theater productions, they are attending operas televised at movie theaters and are taking advantage of local theater and symphony concerts. For some, potluck dinners have replaced dining out. Bargainhunting tips are shared for clothing, gifts and household items.

Caregiving in tough times is an additional stress. One of the women lessened the burden of caregiving by asking two friends to visit her mother and take her for a picnic in the park. This inexpensive outing was so successful that the threesome continues their picnics on a regular basis. One Project Renewment caregiver noted the importance of knowing when "enough is enough" as a way to cope with caregiving responsibilities and economic stresses. "Knowing yourself and your limitations can serve as a healthy replacement for guilt or shame," she reported.

THE NEW NORMAL

A retired member of one of our Renewment Groups suffered losses in her retirement fund due to the economic downturn. …

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