Sunday, November 29, 2009

Transitions: Retirement

Retirement is a difficult transition for seniors to adjust to. It is a stage of life in which most aspects of an individual’s life change. Income, social networks, social status, time management and sense of utility or purpose all change (Donovan, 2008). Thus, the transition into retirement requires personal adjustments on multiple levels.

According to retirement coach, Donovan (2008), the five main benefits one obtains through full time work: the paycheck, time management, sense of utility or purpose, status, socialization, are essential to recreate after retirement. “Part of the planning for a vital retirement involves finding replacements for each of these five benefits” (Donovan, 2008). Also affecting the adjustment into retirement life are “activities with friends and family, feelings about rest and tranquility, and activities that fill up free time” (Nussbaum, et. al., 2000, p. 123).

The unique part about retirement as a stage of life is that it lacks the vital elements and expectations that provide fulfillment during the other stages of life. According to Walker (1999):
Youth, adulthood, and old age fit us for the school, the workplace and retirement...But retirement, unlike school and workplace is not a place. It is not an activity like education or work, nor a role defined by the development of skills or exercise of competence, like that of a student or worker. Retirement is defined instead as the cessation of the adult role of worker (p.104).
Retirement is not a destination nor is it an achievement on its own. The cessation of expectations for growing, learning and working into later life can have negative effects on individuals.

As Bartky (1999) explains, “I have seen the effects of professional obsolescence on older men in my profession” (p. 63). When her dissertation adviser retired she says, “he died shortly after” (Bartky, 1999, p. 63).

As seniors transition into retirement, one must consider the “importance of an individual’s social network” (Nussbaum, et. al., 2000, p. 117). The people whom the individual feels close to or comfortable around during his working years are the same people he will wish to spend time with during retirement and this can be a problem “for elderly people, whose close social network may no longer be living” (Nussbaum, et. al., 2000, p. 118). Equally disrupting to the adjustment to retirement is the loss of one’s social network through a post-retirement move. Seniors often choose move to locations that provide a warmer climate, although “the adjustment to retirement is often made easier by the support of families and friends” (Nussbaum, et. al., 2000, p. 123). When one moves to a new community, one loses vital support networks and must build new friendship networks or face isolation (Nussbaum, et. al., 2000, p. 123). As individuals lose friends or acquaintances through retirement, relocation, or death, there is a risk of social isolation if the individual does not find new opportunities to meet people.

For couples, the transition into retirement is additionally complicated. Bloir (2007) describes how the adjustment of retired couples takes time. They will first experience a short honeymoon phase with things running smoothly. However, when reality sets in, the excitement will wane and as Bloir (2007) explains it, “many [couples] find they’re not quite as excited about the prospect of being a senior citizen or ‘stuck’ with each other.” Spouses might feel the other is getting in the way. Such issues are compounded when the retirement was not taken voluntarily. However, as couples take on new tasks, hobbies, and interests, Bloir (2007) insists that “communication is essential.” Bloir (2007) suggests that couples remain open and honest in a loving way, about “ideas, opinions, likes, and dislikes” because, “a few minutes of heated discussion is better than weeks of repressed anger and resentment.” Couples can survive the adjustment into retirement with considerate communication and by engaging in both common and separate interests that help generate a new sense of purpose and meaning.

Activities of leisure can open up new possibilities for interpersonal communication among retired seniors, hence assisting the adjustment to retirement life. Nussbaum, et. al. (2000) explores three activities of leisure that can be completely enriching interpersonal experiences: “television, playing poker, and learning about computers” (p. 119). Television provides individuals with current events to discuss. Poker provides a group environment in which the players can have ample opportunity to interact. “The entire context of the poker environment is social” (Nussbaum, et. al., 2000, p. 119). Computer courses allow additional opportunities for communication as individuals share information and help one another. Computer courses also give individuals a chance to discuss information with others outside their class. As Nussbaum, et. al. (2000) explains, their familiarity with computers gives them “practical skills and conversational skills…[that] can lead to intergenerational relationships” (p. 119). Plus, the improvement of seniors’ abilities in computer literacy can improve social status, allow seniors to “remain connected with their larger social development and to develop new relationships with those who have similar interests” (Nussbaum, et. al., 2000, p. 120). Thus, through activities that on the surface appear quite casual, seniors can find abundant opportunities to improve communications and find fulfillment during their post-working years.

Bartky, S. L. (1999). Unplanned Obsolescence: Some Reflections on Aging. In M. U. Walker (Ed.), Mother Time. Women, Aging, and Ethics. (pp. 61-74). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Bloir, K. (2007, October 8). "Honey, I'm Home!" - For Good: The Transition to Retirement. Ohio State University. Retrieved July 9, 2009, from

Donovan, J. H. (2008, October 3). Coaching: Transition into retirement. Keys to success in the next part of your journey. Retrieved July 10, 2009 from:

Nussbaum, J. F., Pecchioni, L. L., Robinson, J. D., & Thompson T. L.. (2000). Communication and Aging. (2nd ed.). London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Walker, M. U. (1999). Getting Out of Line: Alternatives to Life As a Career. In M. U. Walker (Ed.), Mother Time. Women, Aging, and Ethics. (pp. 97-111). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

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