Should Couples Retire at the Same Time?

Boomer women were the first generation to enter the workforce in massive numbers and will now be the first generation to retire in massive numbers.

Previously, it used to be that when a man retired his wife (who usually stayed at home) was considered to be “retired” also.

Even now, many long-term married couples take it for granted that when one of them retires the other will retire at the same time and their life together will be wonderful and fulfilling as they ride off into the sunset together.

It’s rare for couples to retire at the same time, especially when there is a large age difference between them.  Statistics Canada reports that only about one third of couples retire together, or within one year of each other.

Health is often a main reason for retirement for both men and women. Others may leave work to care for a family member, or maybe they were downsized and given an early retirement package.

Often the wife is younger and finds her job still enjoyable and wants to continue with her career success.  The more conservative partner may want to feel a bit more secure financially by working a few years longer to avoid a reduced standard of living.

Communication is key

Couples need to step up their game when it comes to discussing their retirement plans.  You talk about your children, upcoming vacations and home improvements, but not this important life event.  Couples need to discuss their expectations, hopes and fears.

Amy (48) is seven years younger than Frank (55). They retired together and are extremely happy with that decision. Recognizing that there’s no guarantee how long their health will hold out, they wanted to share the opportunity to travel, do home projects and spur of the moment activities together. 

 60-year-old Rebecca thoroughly enjoys her work and has no wish to retire.  When her mother had a bad fall, she had several discussions with her husband Joe (62) and they decided to move Mom into their home and Joe would retire and take care of her.

Bill’s idea of retirement was relaxing and hanging out with the guys at his golf club. Meanwhile household tasks were neglected because he didn’t think they were his responsibility.  His wife Molly (61) was still working and thought it would be nice to come home to a tidy house and dinner prepared.  Bill (65), however, didn’t see it that way.  He was resentful that they couldn’t live his chosen lifestyle together.

Tess (56) was becoming burned out from her high-pressure job.  When she was offered an early retirement package, she jumped at it.  She spends her days socializing with friends, learning a new hobby and enjoying time with their grandchildren.  Her husband,Carl (60), is anxious about their finances and feels bitter about having to work longer than he had hoped to.

The bottom line

Retirement is often approached as an individual decision.  But whether to synchronize or stagger their retirement dates is a new dilemma for couples.

A 2018 Fidelity Investments survey found that 43% of married couples disagreed about the age when they will retire.

Retiring together gives couples more time to simply be together and enjoy more activities together.

On the other hand, what if one of you can’t wait to retire and the other is still happy to continue working?

Couples need to do their planning together.  Retirement typically requires adjustment and compromise on both sides.  The sooner you are aware of each other’s goals, the more time you have to work it out. For better or worse, retirement imposes a major change on marriage, and change is always stressful.

How have you managed the decision of when to retire?

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2 Responses

  1. Gin says:

    While we made our plans together, mostly focused on financial aspects and timing (we choose to retire together), we were still somewhat unprepared for transitioning to spending so much of our time together. Thankfully, we have a great marriage. It is a change nevertheless that I can imagine would strain a relationship if not solid. Couples discussing and preparing together is invaluable.
    Unfortunately more baby boomers are ending their marriages and grey divorce is on the rise – nothing will throw a spanner in the ‘retirement’ works faster than divorce.

    • Marie Engen says:

      Hi Gin. It’s great that you’re adapting to all that togetherness so well. It’s easy to assume you both want the same things when you retire, only to be surprised when that’s not the case. That is no doubt why the divorce rate for retirees is higher than any other age group. So you don’t feel like you’re velcroed to each other, it’s probably best to have individual interests as well as activities you do together.

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