Dual-Career Couples: Who Retires When?

By Gardner, Marilyn | The Christian Science Monitor, September 10, 2007 | Go to article overview

Dual-Career Couples: Who Retires When?


Gardner, Marilyn, The Christian Science Monitor


Three years ago this month, Louis DelMuto took an early retirement after 35 years as a middle school history teacher and high school wrestling coach. Now, as he relaxes at home, his wife, Jean, continues her work as a county day-care administrator. "My wife enjoys being out there and working," says Mr. DelMuto, of Hatfield, Pa. "We have talked about this for years. We planned it out carefully with a financial guy." In earlier days, when most families had one wage earner, decisions about when to retire were relatively simple. A worker, typically the husband, would turn 62 or 65, bid colleagues goodbye, and begin collecting Social Security and other benefits. Today, dual-career couples face more complex choices. Many retire together. Others, like the DelMutos, stagger their departures by months or several years - a pattern retirement experts expect will increase. "This notion of staggered retirement is a new phenomenon," says Helen Dennis, a specialist in aging, employment, and retirement in Redondo Beach, Calif. "This is a whole new issue in terms of numbers. How do you time retirement? Who retires first? It could be the source of some interesting discussion if both parties don't share the same vision of their future together, and how time will be spent and allocated." For some couples, leaving the workforce at different times offers greater financial security. It gives one spouse time to earn more and serves as a hedge against uncertain financial markets. It can also provide health insurance for the retired partner if he or she is not yet 65 and thus eligible for Medicare. DelMuto says that his retirement package included no health insurance. "So I'm on my wife's medical [insurance]." But finances tell only part of the story. Couples stagger retirements for other reasons as well. "Typically the wife is a little younger and took time out for raising children," says Ronald Manheimer, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement in Asheville. "She came back into the workforce and is short of achieving full pension capability or is enjoying her level of accomplishment. She's not willing to give it up yet." But when women stay on the job and men retire, household chores can become an issue. "There's an expectation that since they have time, they should be responsible for more domestic responsibilities - shopping, cleaning, paying bills," Mr. Manheimer says. "Friction can arise about the man not picking up the slack when she's still working. A wife might say, 'He's a nuclear engineer, but he can't load the washing machine.' " That's no problem for DelMuto, who does laundry. "I like to cook, and I learned how to do the other stuff," he adds. One working wife with a retired husband told Ms. Dennis, "When I got home, I really expected dinner to be made. He said, 'What's for dinner, dear?' " "Men are doing more at home, but wives who are still working don't think they're doing enough, such as getting dinner on the table and cleaning," says Phyllis Moen, a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota. Conversely, when a wife retires first, other issues can arise. "If the husband is continuing in his job and his wife is retired, he's quite happy with that situation, because he's got a full-time homemaker now," says Ms. Moen. "She's very unhappy with that situation, because it's putting her back in the role of doing all the domestic work." Other issues facing couples with staggered retirements revolve around leisure time. The person who is retired may want to travel more, visit grandchildren, or attend Elderhostel, Moen says. Yet constraints on the other person's job make that difficult. Husbands who 'want a playmate' Some women feel coerced by their husbands to retire, especially if he is older and ready to start a new chapter. "The conflict we're dealing with is that the husband wants a playmate," says Elaine Morgillo, president of Morgillo Financial Management in North AndA-over, Mass. "He wants to retire, and he wants to do things with his wife. …

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