Women and Retirement: Reflections from the Field

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Women and Retirement Reflections from the Field

Retirement often closes the door on a chapter in one's professiona life, How can women emotonally, physically, and financially prepare for the transition?

Women Confronting Retirement: A Nontraditional Guide Nan Bauer-Maglin and Alice Radosh, eds. New Brunswick, N.J., Rutgers University Press, 2003

A Woman's Education: The Road from Coovain Leads to Smith College Jill Ker Conway New York, Alfred Knopf, 2001

When Baby Boom Women Retive Nancy Dailey Westport, Conn., Praegcr, 2000

Retirement has a ring of finality, signifying that a door is about to close on a productive, remunerative time of one's life. For professors, it may also mean giving up tenure and thus the assurance of continuing employment in their professional field. In 1987, the U.S. Congress amended the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, eliminating mandatory retirement for most American employees. Academic institutions were given another seven years, until January 1, 1994, to adhere to this provision so that they might modify their policies on faculty retirement.

In his 2002 book, Tuition Rising: Why College Costs So Much, labor economist Ronald Ehrenberg observes that few institutions used that seven-year hiatus to address potential problems arising from the end of mandatory retirement, particularly its impact on hiring and the tenure system. Still, evidence is accumulating that colleges and universities are using early retirement packages that rely on incentives such as monetary buyouts, mortgage allowances, pension contributions, health benefits, and lifetime use of facilities to encourage faculty to give up their tenured positions. Not surprisingly, although these packages are typically gender and race neutral, most fail to address the psychic realities of moving from full-time tenured positions into more transitory phases of life.

The effect of this failure and other shortcomings of the current retirement system fall especially hard on women. Over the past quarter-century, women have benefited from changes in social-security and pension-vesting requirements and, most recently, from passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which makes it possible to obtain up to twelve weeks of personal leave without penalty. The AAUP's annual report on the economic status of the profession, however, shows continued gender inequities in the salaries of women faculty compared with those of their male colleagues. Such inequities diminish women's pensions and their chances of economically stable retirements, as do the persistence of gender discrimination in employment and the erosion of Social Security and Medicare. For women who head their households alone, the chances decline further.

Baby Boomers

Management consultant Nancy Dailey has written a thoughtful, well-researched little book on how these issues are affecting women from the baby-boom generation-those born between 1946 and 1964, who are projected to begin retiring in 2010. Her work raises many questions about the economic aspects of women's retirement planning.

In When Baby Boom Women Retire, she expresses concern about how economic, social, and political changes in American institutions will impact the retirement security of most of the baby-boom women now in the paid workforce. Using 1990 as a benchmark, she draws on federal census data, population surveys, statistical reports, and research on retirement to analyze women's retirement prospects.

Dailey notes that 80 percent of all baby-boom women with five or more years of college are now in the labor force, and that women are altering the composition of the workforce in occupations that men have historically dominated. To address these developments, she calls for changes in the analysis of retirement policies and practices, rejection of the traditional male-defined model "based on a linear design which assumes a cause-and-efrect relationship between work and retirement," and new ways of measuring the ramifications of retirement policies. …