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ExPLORING THE INFLUENCE OF MARITAL STATUS ON

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ExPLORING THE INFLUENCE OF MARITAL STATUS ON Powered By Docstoc
					Journal of Ethnographic & Qualitative Research
2008, Vol. 3, 48-57        ISSN: 1935-3308




                  Exploring thE influEncE of Marital StatuS
                     on WoMEn’S rEtirEMEnt ExpEriEncES

                                                     Christine A. Price
                                                 Montclair State University

                                                       Olena Nesteruk
                                                 Montclair State University

                      Women’s retirement is an unexplored phenomenon due to perceptions of the
                      transition as relevant only to men. Furthermore, due to declining marriage
                      rates, increased divorce rates, and the likelihood of experiencing widow-
                      hood, retired women’s marital histories are increasingly varied. To explore
                      the influence of marital status on women’s retirement, we interviewed 40
                      women from a Midwestern state and asked them to describe their retire-
                      ment experiences. Using purposeful sampling, we targeted women who
                      were diverse in marital status, age, ethnicity, occupational background,
                      and income. Results indicated that women’s marital status influenced their
                      retirement experiences, specifically regarding: (1) retirement decisions,
                      (2) social relationships, and (3) freedom and independence in retirement.
                      These findings are discussed and suggestions are made to recognize retired
                      women’s diverse marital histories.




    Of the total population 16 years of age and                    low perceived health, and economic insecurity in
                                                                   retirement (Kim & Moen, 2002). At the same time,
older, 58% of women participate in the United                      satisfaction in retirement for women increases
States labor force and work in a variety of pro-                   when they participate in volunteer activities, re-
fessions. As a result of women’s expanding work                    port high self-esteem, and have a history of ad-
roles, retirement for women has gradually gained                   vanced education (Quick & Moen, 1998). Because
attention in research literature. Researchers have                 of women’s increased labor force participation,
found women experience challenges in retirement                    combined with varied occupational histories, un-
due to adjustment problems and low retirement                      derstanding the retirement transitions of women
satisfaction (e.g., Quick & Moen, 1998). Specifical-               is important (Quick & Moen, 1998). This under-
ly, women can experience social isolation, a loss                  standing, however, requires consideration of vari-
of social status, reduced self-esteem, depression,                 ables that influence how women experience re-
                                                                   tirement, for example the role of marital status.
                                                                   The purpose of this study was to address a gap
                                                                   in the literature regarding how marital status im-
     Christine A. Price, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Fami-    pacts women’s retirement.
ly and Child Studies at Montclair State University in Montclair,        The importance of marital status to wom-
New Jersey.
     Olena Nesteruk, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Family
                                                                   en’s retirement has appeared as a marginally ex-
and Child Studies at Montclair State University in Montclair,      plored issue in the literature. The few scholars
New Jersey.                                                        who have examined marital status reported the
     Correspondence concerning this article should be ad-          relative advantage of married persons (e.g., Marks
dressed to pricech@mail.montclair.edu.                             & Lambert, 1998) over the unmarried. Two areas
                                           Exploring thE influEncE                                           49



emphasized were the beneficial impact of mar-             had the highest scores on depression among the
riage on health behaviors, especially in later life       different marital groups.
(e.g., Pienta, Hayward, & Jenkins, 2000), as well              Despite preliminary findings that marital sta-
as more social support and less isolation. Wheth-         tus impacts women’s later life transitions, research
er retired or not, married women experienced less         about women’s retirement disproportionately rep-
loneliness and greater life satisfaction than wom-        resents the experiences of married women. The
en who were widowed or divorced (e.g., Dykstra,           retirement experiences of formerly married (e.g.,
1995).                                                    divorced, widowed) and never-married wom-
      When comparing the experiences of the nev-          en remain largely unexplored. When marital sta-
er-married with married and unmarried, Stull              tus is considered, widowed, divorced, and nev-
and Scarisbrick-Hauser (1989) found that health,          er-married women are frequently collapsed into
life satisfaction, and activity levels of the never-      the category of “unmarried” or “single” with no
married were not significantly different from oth-        recognition of within-group differences (Price &
er marital groups. The married reported more              Joo, 2005). Although never and formerly married
happiness; however, those who had never mar-              women often experience continuous work histo-
ried reported more socialization with friends and         ries, report occupational gratification, and lack
neighbors, and were also at lower risk for insti-         immediate family roles emphasized by retired
tutionalization than the widowed and divorced.            married women, little is known about how these
Choi (1996) revealed that never-married and di-           groups of women experience retirement (Choi,
vorced women were similar in their health sta-            1996).
tus and social integration in retirement; however,             Declining marriage rates, high divorce rates,
never-married women were more financially se-             and the likelihood that women will be widowed in
cure and less likely to require assistance in later       later life all contribute to the heterogeneous mar-
life.                                                     ital histories of women approaching retirement.
      Research indicates that marital status signif-      As a result of these shifting marital patterns, it is
icantly influences how women define and expe-             imperative the academy and practitioners under-
rience retirement. For instance, Price (2002) ex-         stand the implications of marital status on retire-
plored the combined effects of employment                 ment for women. Utilizing qualitative methodol-
history and marital status and found that mari-           ogy, our goal in the present study was to explore
tal status affected the involvement of nonprofes-         the relevance of marital status to women’s retire-
sional and professional female retirees with fami-        ment experiences and to document how women
ly and community activities. Married professional         with varied marital backgrounds approached and
women differed from never-married, divorced,              described their retirement transitions.
and widowed professional women in how they
structured their retirement lifestyles. For example,      Method
married women focused their retirement around                  We interviewed 40 women for this study from
their spouses’ and other family-related activities,       a larger sample of 330 retired women. The pur-
whereas single women pursued leadership and               pose of the larger study was to explore quantita-
membership roles in their communities. Dorfman            tive and qualitative predictors of retirement sat-
and Moffet (1987) found differences in predictors         isfaction among women. We used a purposeful
of retirement satisfaction for married and wid-           sampling method to identify retired women di-
owed women. For widows, frequency and extent              verse in marital status, age, ethnicity, income, and
of contact with friends and neighbors predicted           employment history. We used criterion sampling
satisfaction; whereas married women identified            to ensure identification with the work role (Cher-
social support and availability of a confidante as        ry, Zarit, & Krauss, 1984), as well as to recruit the
critical factors. With regard to the relationship be-     more recently retired. The first criterion for partic-
tween marital status and retirement satisfaction,         ipation was that women had to have retired after
Price and Joo (2005) suggested that divorced/             a minimum of 10 years of either discontinuous or
separated women were considerably less satis-             continuous employment. Because retirement, on
fied when compared to married, remarried, and             average, can last more than 20 years, and the fur-
widowed women. Specifically, divorced/separat-            ther from the transition the more retrospective the
ed women reported low satisfaction with their fi-         data (Cherry et al., 1984), the second criterion for
nancial status, their relationships with family, and      participation was that women had to have retired
                                                          within seven years or less. Traditional retirement
50                                             pricE & nEstEruk


definitions often do not recognize the multidi-           Sample Description
mensional nature of retirement for women and as-               As a result of our recruitment methods, 40
sume a linear work history that fails to recognize        women agreed to be interviewed about their re-
women who work intermittently or who work                 tirements. For the purposes of privacy and confi-
part time. Furthermore, traditional retirement def-       dentiality, all participants chose pseudonyms. The
initions often include only those receiving a re-         women were retired between 1 and 7 years, were
tirement pension benefit, which many women                diverse in marital status (12 married, 12 divorced,
are not eligible for due to their varied work his-        8 widowed, 8 never-married), and ranged in age
tories and disproportionate representation in ser-        from 53 to 74 years. In recognition of same-sex
vice-oriented jobs (Richardson, 1999). To address         partnerships, lesbians with lifetime partners were
this limitation, we defined retirement as the ter-        categorized as married. Women were predomi-
mination of one’s primary employment. We also             nantly Caucasian (N = 32), with seven women
included participants who returned to part-time           identifying as African-American and one as mul-
employment or were involved in volunteer activi-          tiracial. The women represented varied income
ties in the sample. Our rationale for a broad retire-     levels, with 12 women reporting incomes of un-
ment definition was to include women who had              der $15,999 to $30,999; 19 women reporting in-
approached the retirement transition in a variety         comes of $31,000 to $60,999; and 6 women re-
of ways.                                                  porting incomes of more than $61,000 annually.
                                                          The sample was relatively well-educated, with 16
Data Collection                                           women reporting some graduate education and/
     We designed recruitment brochures that de-           or a doctoral degree, 18 women reporting either
scribed the study and included a postage-paid re-         an associate’s degree, a college degree, or attend-
turn postcard for potential participants to indi-         ing some college, and 6 women having completed
cate interest. We distributed these brochures to          high school.
retired women across a Midwestern state via gov-               The occupational histories of women were di-
ernment agencies, senior centers, and Extension           vided among professional (N = 20), paraprofes-
County agents. In addition, we placed publicity           sional (N = 17), and nonprofessional (N = 3)
announcements in retiree association and alumni           backgrounds. The professional women included
association newsletters, in extension county news-        retired professors, social workers, teachers, ad-
letters, and on a university website. We employed         ministrators, and registered nurses who held col-
a trained interviewer to collect data, and inter-         lege degrees. The paraprofessional women con-
views lasted 1 to 2 hours and 30 minutes. This            sisted of administrative assistants, secretaries,
interviewer followed a semi-structured interview          bank tellers, receptionists, and a postal clerk with
guide to address specific aspects of retirement           some college education. Finally, the nonprofes-
across interviews and encouraged participants to          sional women had less formal education, less in-
also speak about topics relevant to their person-         come, and less authority with occupations of a
al experiences. We continued to interview women           bus driver, a cashier, and a cook. The women re-
until we achieved data saturation. Graduate stu-          ported good health and relatively active retire-
dents transcribed all interview data verbatim.            ments; however, they were not representative of
     Because this sample was part of a larger study       all retired women.
about women’s retirement, the interview ques-
tions did not directly address the relevance of           Analysis
marital status to these women’s retirement expe-               We analyzed interviews in a manner consis-
riences. Rather, the interview guide addressed a          tent with grounded theory methodology (Strauss
variety of topics, such as retirement planning and        & Corbin, 1998). Each author independently per-
adjustment, retirement satisfaction, social sup-          formed open coding, interview-by-interview. We
port, depression, and self-esteem. The influence          initially used this coding approach in the data
of the women’s marital backgrounds on their re-           analysis process to compare the similarities and
tirement experiences emerged during the inter-            differences of potential patterns and themes in
view process, therefore resulting in the present          the data. The first author used the qualitative
analysis.                                                 software Ethnograph (v. 5) during open coding to
                                                          identify segments of text that correspond to each
                                                          code as well as to develop theoretical memos.
                                           Exploring thE influEncE                                            51



The second author coded by hand, identified seg-              We employed member checks, a second strat-
ments of text that correlated with specific codes,        egy that Lincoln and Guba (1985) recommend-
and made notes about potential categories and             ed to increase the credibility of findings and to
themes. We practiced peer debriefing and regular-         empower participants to be co-collaborators in
ly met to discuss, compare, and contrast our open         the research process. In the present study, fol-
coding on a line-by-line, page-by-page basis; each        lowing data collection and preliminary analysis,
of us led discussions about specific coding termi-        we mailed all participants an executive summa-
nology and definitions (Patton, 2002). This strate-       ry of the findings. We included a self-addressed,
gy contributed to a qualitative version of inter-rat-     stamped envelope and solicited participants’ re-
er reliability, where core codes and concepts were        sponses. Although we did not receive any direct
(a) identified by each researcher, (b) reoccurred         feedback about the results, we did receive several
across narratives, and (c) were significant to the        notes thanking us for the opportunity to partici-
experiences of retired women.                             pate, which we interpreted as participants’ accep-
     We then used axial coding to identify rela-          tance that the findings were accurate.
tionships between categories and the proper-
ties of these categories (Corbin & Strauss, 1990).        Results
Our discussions consisted of cooperative anal-                 The results of our analysis indicated that mar-
ysis between the authors. For example, follow-            ried or unmarried marital status did influence the
ing independent coding, each of us brought in-            retirement experiences of these women in a vari-
dividual ideas to negotiate theoretical meanings          ety of capacities. Specifically, we identified three
behind these coded categories and to identify             core themes that represented how the retirements
core themes from the data. Finally, we used the-          of the women were affected. We present these
oretical memos to inform the data analysis pro-           themes and provide quotes to illustrate the partic-
cess, beginning with initial coding, and contin-          ipants’ experiences.
ued through the analysis and reporting processes.
Memos contained ideas about coded categories,             The Decision to Retire
relationships between categories, and directions
                                                               In terms of personal choices made in retire-
for further analysis. We sorted memos according
                                                          ment, circumstances surrounding the decision to
to content and integrated them in order to repre-
                                                          retire were significantly influenced by whether
sent the emerging relationships between catego-
                                                          the women were married or unmarried. As other
ries. These memos provided a valuable link be-
                                                          researchers have reported, husbands, as well as
tween the analysis process and writing of research
                                                          family responsibilities, frequently influence mar-
results.
                                                          ried women’s decisions to retire (Zimmerman,
                                                          Mitchell, Wister, & Gutman, 2000). Kay, a married
Issues of Internal Validity                               woman, described how her husband’s retirement
     To increase the credibility of data and the          and his interest in pursuing activities together in-
quality of the interviews, the first author purpose-      fluenced her retirement decision: “My husband
fully selected an interviewer who was close in age        retired in 1990, and by 1996 he was ready for me
to the participants. The proximity in age facilitat-      to spend more time with him.” Vicki also de-
ed rapport with participants and increased their          scribed how her husband’s retirement instigated
comfort in sharing their retirement experiences.          her own exit from the workforce: “My husband
In addition, to address researcher bias, the trained      retired about age 56 and I was 54 and I was not
interviewer participated in reflexive analysis. This      ready to retire at that time . . . but it made me start
practice involved journaling her thoughts and po-         thinking that I’m going to have to.”
tential biases during the data collection process.             In addition, married women described that
Further, at the end of each interview, prior to leav-     their husbands’ health and their need for care af-
ing the interview location, she audio recorded her        fected their retirement decisions. For the wom-
immediate reactions and observations pertaining           en who became caregivers in retirement, both for
to the woman she just interviewed, the setting,           husbands and aging parents, their descriptions
their interactions, and how her overall impres-           revealed a lack of choice in not only the retire-
sion of the interview occurred. These transcribed         ment decision but also in what they were able to
reflections informed the analysis process and in-         do in retirement, at least during the care-giving
creased the credibility of the findings.                  period. Gina, a widow who was still married at
52                                             pricE & nEstEruk


the time she retired, considered her retirement as        held in retirement. Married women and some un-
forced: “I was not ready to retire. He needed me          married women with children frequently turned
at home. His health was bad and he needed me.             to family roles and responsibilities once retired,
. . . Truthfully, I would have been better off and        whereas unmarried women who did not have im-
happier working longer.” Similarly, Candy, whose          mediate family roles expressed a need to identify
husband had spinal surgery, described his fragile         and maintain alternative methods of social inte-
health as the reason she retired: “He needed, the         gration. Hobart, for example, a remarried wom-
care and stuff, so . . . I just went ahead and took       an with four grandchildren, described her family
retirement in January. You know, and it just was          relationships as critical to her sense of fulfillment
hard . . . but it was more important and he need-         in retirement. In fact, she discussed how, without
ed me.”                                                   these family-related activities, she would have to
     In contrast, the unmarried women described           identify other ways of maintaining social contact:
their retirement decisions as depending on their               [If I had not remarried] I don’t think my
personal choice, independent of the influence of               life would have been as enriched as it is.
others. For example, Consuella, a divorcee, de-                I feel like right now my life is very filled.
scribed her readiness to leave an administrative               I feel needed. Everybody needs to feel
position for a different part-time career in the hos-          like you’re accomplishing something. I
pitality industry. She compared her experience to              feel needed to support [my husband]. I
those who are married: “And people that have a                 feel needed because of the four grand-
spouse both retire at the same time. They make                 children. But if something were to hap-
plans. And they’re much more concrete. Where,                  pen to [my husband] or the kids moved
being single, I have the option to not attach my-              out of town . . . then I would need to look
self with anyone.” Similarly, Betty, who was                   for volunteer work, a part-time job, you
twice-widowed, decided she had had enough of                   know, whatever.
work and wanted to do some things for herself:            Hobart was unique in that she recognized how
     I needed to enjoy my life. I thought I’d             her family defined her retirement and she would
     worked long enough. I felt like, hey, if I           need to replace these family roles with alternative
     want to get up in the morning and sit by             roles should her circumstances change.
     my window and look out and have a cup                     Unlike most of their single counterparts, a
     of coffee and just relax and read and do             limited number of widowed and divorced wom-
     some of the things that I want to do, I’m            en with children also mentioned family roles as
     entitled to it by now.                               important to their retirement experiences. Betty, a
Betty had raised children and grandchildren in her        widow with eight children, described a family-fo-
life and repeatedly emphasized how she wanted             cused retirement:
to pursue her own interests in retirement.                     My second husband died and I just feel
     It becomes apparent from these retirement                 free. I don’t have to cater to a husband
narratives that the decision to retire for married             anymore. I miss him because I miss our
women was not always voluntary. Rather, the                    traveling together. I miss that. Other than
needs and wishes of husbands and other fami-                   that, I have the children and there’s a
ly members played an influential part in the de-               whole range of things that they do. And
cision-making process despite the women’s per-                 with so many of them, I’m always busy.
sonal desire to continue working. In comparison,          For these unmarried women, family-related roles
unmarried women approached this important de-             and activities helped to provide structure to their
cision with limited influence from outside sources.       retirements and provided a sense of purpose.
Expressed feelings of “readiness,” the desire for a            When asked about the most fulfilling aspect
change, or simply the interest in pursuing alterna-       of their retirements, married women dispropor-
tive activities served as reasons for retirement.         tionately emphasized family-related activities, as
                                                          Barbara, a married woman described:
Social Relationships                                           I guess my grandchildren. There’s noth-
                                                               ing like opening the door and they’re run-
    With regard to the social relationships of the             ning up, “Grandma, Grandma!” They’re
women during retirement, both marital status                   glad to see you . . . they’re my most ful-
and the role of motherhood appeared to influence               filling thing. I think one of the joys in life
the social connections and activities the women
                                         Exploring thE influEncE                                          53



     is seeing your children with their children             [Following retirement] I was bored. But
     and how they interact.                                  now, I’m okay because I go over to my
In addition, Monica, who had no children but pro-            sister’s and help with the kids and every-
vided care to both of her aging parents and assist-          thing and then I go to church more often.
ed her husband with his business, identified the             And I just see people more often. I just
provision of support to family as a rewarding ex-            do different, more things. And my niece,
perience: “The best part [of retirement] is having           she’s in the children’s choir and we go
time to be present for my family and my husband              to her functions and everything. That
when I was really needed and not having to feel              was one of my niece’s children that my
the pressure that I needed to be at a job.”                  sister’s taking care of the one that died.
     In contrast to the married women, the single            But my sister and I, we’re the best of two
women recognized the lack of family roles avail-             friends. We interact all the time.
able to them and emphasized the challenge of            Single women in retirement faced the challenge
identifying alternative interests. Ellen, who nev-      of identifying and pursuing different ways to con-
er married, commented on her single status in           nect with others and maintain social connections
retirement:                                             they had prior to retirement.
     I have been by myself because those are                 One of the ways single women addressed a
     the choices I made. Now I’m not sure               lack of family roles and responsibilities in retire-
     they were the right choices. Now is the            ment was to go back to work, either full- or part-
     time when I have reconsidered my choice            time. Consuella, for example, spoke about need-
     not to marry. I think when you’re retired          ing a job in order to keep from feeling isolated:
     that’s a time you can enjoy the friendship         “Even though I have a lot of hobbies, I’m a single
     of your spouse and your partner. If you            woman and it would not be healthy for me to be
     are by yourself, I think some kind of com-         isolated. And I would not have enough activities
     panion is important.                               to keep me ‘in the now’ as I call it.” In addition,
Olivia, a divorced woman, spoke about isolation         Queenie, who was divorced, returned to part-time
in retirement and having to take the initiative to      work seven months after retiring. She did not like
find activities that she enjoyed: “At some point I      the idea of being around the house and empha-
recognized that since I live alone it wasn’t real-      sized how critical it was to remain engaged and
ly good for me to be alone all the time, so that’s      active in later life:
when I started to get involved in more things.” Ju-          I had thought that when I did retire that
lia Ann, a widow, described how being single and             I would probably get a part-time job, be-
not having the support of a spouse can be chal-              cause I know I’m not the kind to sit at
lenging. Specifically, she mentioned the challenge           home because I’m not a housekeeper.
of maintaining social connections in retirement              I think people, when they get to be se-
without the regularity of a job and how isolation            niors, they categorize their self. And they
can result in dwelling on one’s health:                      make their self old . . . I think sitting still,
     I find times feeling I wished I had a job;              you’ve got to age, there’s no doubt about
     I find I feel depressed sometimes because               it. I like the idea of thinking I can get out
     of that. I think I kind of miss being around            of here. A lot of people as they get older,
     people every day. And the worst thing is                you know, they just hibernate and peo-
     that it’s just every year you begin to have             ple need to, you know, get out and do
     these health problems and you think,                    something.
     well is this it? You know. And I think             Returning to full- or part-time work gave some of
     when you live by yourself you dwell on             the single women the outlet they needed to keep
     that more maybe.                                   busy and interact with others on a daily basis.
Finally, Barb, a never-married woman, filled her             It is important to mention that the unmarried
retirement spending time with her sister and help-      women did not view themselves as disadvantaged
ing to raise seven grandchildren. She described         in retirement due to their single status. Rather,
taking a bus regularly to her sister’s house, help-     they emphasized methods they used to maintain
ing another niece to run a day-care center, and re-     social connections with others and avoid spend-
lying on her church family. Barb also spoke about       ing too much time alone. In comparison, the mar-
the importance of these relationships in providing      ried women, and some of the single women with
her with social contacts:                               children, did not place the same emphasis on
54                                            pricE & nEstEruk


thinking about what social activities they would         dependent on me. I’ve no one to answer to.” Sim-
pursue in retirement, nor did they report isolation      ilarly, Julia Ann, a widow, described her retire-
or boredom once retired. This difference, which          ment as an opportunity to do what she wanted
appears to be linked to marital status, has clear        when she wanted: “Not having to fool with any-
implications for how women plan ahead for re-            body. Do whatever you want. I mean, you come
tirement in terms of their social networks and the       and go. You cook when you want and eat when
family and/or social roles available to them.            you want.” Beryl, a divorced woman, represented
                                                         single women who relished their independence in
Freedom and Independence                                 retirement and the freedom it provided them after
                                                         years of taking care of others:
     The married women expressed fulfillment in
                                                              I’m just independent and on my own, so
retirement as a result of their family roles and re-
                                                              I don’t have anything to worry about as
sponsibilities. However, they also admitted how
                                                              far as a spouse for retirement. I make my
these obligations limited their choices to pursue
                                                              own plans for everything because I know
individual interests and spend time alone. In con-
                                                              I have that responsibility to myself and
trast, women who were not married described an
                                                              I didn’t have anyone to depend on, it’s
appreciation of the freedom they experienced in
                                                              just me. I like being independent. I make
retirement, while at the same time emphasized
                                                              my own decisions. I don’t have to rely on
how taking advantage of that independence was
                                                              other people. And that’s a good feeling.
a necessity. Vicki, who enthusiastically described
                                                         Jean, also divorced, emphasized that retirement
activities with her husband and how they enjoyed
                                                         for her meant finally having time for herself. For-
each other’s company, also admitted that spend-
                                                         merly married women communicated this senti-
ing too much time together in retirement could be
                                                         ment, and echoed Jean’s insights:
a challenge:
                                                              I went into a marriage to where it was al-
     It was adjusting to him not being at work
                                                              ways other people. A husband, then chil-
     and my free time not being exactly my
                                                              dren, and everything. Always responsibil-
     free time as much as what it was. It was
                                                              ities. If we were running short on money I
     getting used to having someone at home
                                                              would be working. Now in my life I don’t
     with me. I couldn’t do as I pleased when I
                                                              want that anymore. I don’t want all this
     pleased. Not that I couldn’t, it’s just I felt
                                                              responsibility for other people other than
     that I didn’t want to leave him. I felt that
                                                              myself. I’ve never had enough to give to
     I needed to stay around. And it took me
                                                              myself until now. It’s always been for
     some time to adjust to that. But I still feel
                                                              somebody else or something else. And
     some guilt . . . about going [shopping]
                                                              I like that. It’s a luxury for me. It truly
     with my daughter.
                                                              is. It’s a luxury. And I grab it with both
Similarly, Elaine, who remarried at the same time
                                                              hands and say, “Yes, I’ll take it.”
as she retired and had 17 grandchildren, explained
                                                         Retirement gave women like Jean an opportunity
that her marital status influenced the types of ac-
                                                         for self-discovery and personal empowerment not
tivities she pursued in retirement. Specifically,
                                                         previously experienced.
she spoke about not having time to volunteer or
                                                              An underlying theme in the unmarried wom-
take on a part-time job: “If I were retired and not
                                                         en’s descriptions of autonomy was a clear em-
married, I would probably be doing more volun-
                                                         phasis on the need for women to build their lives
teering. I might have a very part-time job, one or
                                                         in retirement and not view their single status as
two days a week, you know, six hours a day, the
                                                         a limitation. Barb, a never-married woman with
whole bit.”
                                                         no children, warned women not to make excuses
     Despite earlier concerns about isolation and
                                                         as a result of their single status and encouraged
the need to remain connected, formerly married
                                                         women to be self-reliant in retirement:
and unmarried women repeatedly mentioned the
                                                              Just get out and do. Don’t just sit back.
freedom to pursue personal interests in retire-
                                                              Just get out and do. And some people will
ment. Diane, a divorced woman, described how
                                                              say, “Well, I don’t have nobody, I don’t
her single status resulted in freedom and indepen-
                                                              have anyone to do it with.” Get out and
dence: “Most women who are retired and mar-
                                                              do it by yourself because I have done
ried don’t have the freedom of choice that I have.
                                                              things by myself. Some people say, “Well,
I mean, I can do virtually anything. Nobody is
                                          Exploring thE influEncE                                          55



     I don’t have anybody to walk with,” then                 Historically, involuntary retirement for men
     get out and walk by yourself.                       has resulted from formally forced retirement due
Barb’s encouragement echoed the other single             to reaching retirement age or is directly linked to
women who repeatedly emphasized how im-                  health limitations (Hardy, 2002). More research is
portant it was to learn and do things alone in           needed, however, about whether married wom-
retirement.                                              en define their retirement decisions as involun-
     Overall, the unmarried women, regardless of         tary. Retired women’s experiences have only been
whether they were divorced, widowed, or never            examined in the context of marriage with the as-
married, brought attention to some advantages of         sumption that marriage is beneficial (e.g., better
singlehood in retirement. In a society where mar-        health, social support) (Dykstra, 1995; Pienta et
riage is assumed to be the norm and activities are       al., 2000). But what about the limited freedom
often designed for couples, these women pointed          married women may experience with regard to
to the benefits of choosing their retirement life-       the decision to retire as well as the common care-
styles, while recognizing that with this freedom         giving obligations that come with the retirement
also brings the responsibility to find meaningful        transition? A paucity of knowledge exists about
pursuits.                                                the long-term implications of this form of forced
                                                         retirement for women.
Discussion                                                    An important theme in the narratives of these
     The results of this exploratory study indicated     women pertained to the types of social roles and
that marital status influenced the retirement ex-        relationships the women described in retirement.
periences of these women. Specifically, whether          Having a spouse or partner and having children or
and when to retire, the social relationships pur-        grandchildren appeared to affect what the women
sued once retired, as well as the extent of freedom      did in retirement, specifically their involvement
and independence experienced in retirement were          in family-related activities. In comparison, some
all affected by whether the women were married           unmarried women described initial isolation fol-
or not married. The themes that emerged indicat-         lowing retirement, and others simply emphasized
ed that further exploration of the relationship be-      the need to identify methods for social interaction
tween women’s marital status and their experi-           once retired. It appeared the single women had to
ences in retirement should occur. Because women          make more of an effort to create retirement life-
often define themselves by their family roles, the       styles that included a variety of social relation-
presence or absence of a spouse/partner can be-          ships, either through friendships, part-time work,
come increasingly relevant when a woman exits            or extended family roles, in order to avoid isola-
the workforce due to retirement.                         tion in retirement.
     The women first identified that the decision             Researchers who have explored the social in-
to retire was influenced by their marital status.        tegration of older adults found that participation
Discussion of the literature that has document-          in meaningful roles, as well as maintaining a so-
ed that married women are much more likely to            cial network, can lead to positive physical and
base their retirement decisions on the health sta-       psychological well-being in later life (e.g., Pille-
tus or retirement timing of their spouses directly       mer, Moen, Wethington, & Glasgow, 2000). With
supports this finding (Hatch & Thompson, 1992;           regard to retirees in particular, it appears that so-
Zimmerman et al., 2000). For these married wom-          cial integration is critical to facilitating adjust-
en, experiencing pressure from husbands to retire        ment and enhancing satisfaction with retirement.
and becoming caregivers to them as well as other         Though few researchers have exclusively focused
family members in retirement was a frequent oc-          on the social integration patterns of retired wom-
currence. An implication of this finding that needs      en, preliminary studies indicate that retired wom-
further exploration is whether this form of “invol-      en are more likely to be involved in informal fam-
untary” retirement influences married women’s            ily roles, be volunteers, and be caregivers than are
satisfaction with retirement. Existing research          male retirees (Moen, Fields, Quick, & Hofmeister,
about the significance of voluntary retirement to        2000). What lacks in this literature, however, is
positive retirement adjustment (Reitzes & Mutran,        any discussion of how a woman’s marital status
2004) and greater psychological well-being in re-        might influence her social capital in retirement.
tirement (Kim & Moen, 2002) provides justifica-          In other words, what personal resources gained
tion for this line of questioning.                       from social experiences might women have as a
                                                         result of their married or unmarried status? As
56                                            pricE & nEstEruk


was indicated in the present study, married wom-         the support or involvement of a spouse or com-
en appeared to have the advantage of immediate           panion. A clear message in their narratives was
family roles and spousal companionship in retire-        the need to establish and maintain social connec-
ment; whereas formerly married and never mar-            tions and to make these relationships a priority in
ried women, especially those without children,           retirement.
depended on less traditional avenues for main-                In relation to the single women’s positive eval-
taining social integration, such as volunteer work,      uations of freedom and autonomy, it is important
employment, and recreational activities. By look-        to note that these were relatively well-educated,
ing more closely at the social resources available       healthy, financially secure women who entered
to them in retirement, women can better prepare          retirement with the social capital to appreciate
for the loss of the worker role and the replacement      and take advantage of their new found freedom
of this role with alternative social connections.        and independence. In contrast, other women may
      Researchers investigating the effects of re-       not embrace this self-determination in the same
tirement on marriage have pointed to the multi-          manner, nor have the resources to overcome isola-
ple adjustment challenges couples may encoun-            tion, fear, or loneliness at lacking a partner/com-
ter: negotiating the division of household labor,        panion in retirement.
identifying mutually satisfying activities, balanc-           In summary, this preliminary investigation
ing time spent together with time spent pursuing         provided a modest glimpse into the lives of re-
individual interests (Szinovacz, 2000; Szinovacz         tired women and the influence marital status can
& Davey, 2005). As the married women described,          have on the decision to retire, social connections,
spending all of one’s time with a spouse can limit       and independence in retirement. It does not imply
opportunities to spend time with friends or partic-      that marital status is the only factor that influenc-
ipate in individual activities. An important mes-        es how women retire and the types of lives they
sage for married women entering retirement is            lead in retirement. Rather, the study exposed mar-
the need to establish balance in their retirement        ital status as an important, yet neglected, compo-
lifestyles that enables them to participate in both      nent of women’s retirement that has the potential
family-oriented activities as well as maintain their     to influence certain aspects of this transition and
individual identities and achieve personal goals.        life stage.
      The emphasis that single women placed on
freedom and independence revealed an aspect of           Limitations & Future Research
women’s retirement that has not been previously               We recognized several limitations in the pres-
explored. Because researchers originally included        ent study. First, the women did not represent all
women in retirement studies in order to examine          retired women and the findings from this study
wives’ experiences of their husbands’ retirements        cannot be generalized. Further, because we re-
or the effect of retirement on marital satisfaction,     cruited participants with a purposeful sampling
little is known about the retirement experiences         method, there was no way to assess the differenc-
of single/unmarried women. The findings of the           es between the retired women in this sample and
present study indicated both positive and nega-          the retired women who did not volunteer to par-
tive aspects of retiring as a single woman. These        ticipate. Finally, because our purpose was not to
women extensively spoke about the freedom to             explore the impact of marital status on women’s
create their retirements without concern for oth-        retirement, the data collected did not directly ad-
ers’ needs or desires. Though this might appear          dress this particular research question. As a result,
to be self-serving, it is important to recognize         collecting additional data about the topic of mari-
that for many of these women, retirement provid-         tal status may enable women to expand or further
ed the first opportunity to focus on themselves.         reflect about this topic. In spite of the method-
A majority of the formerly married women were            ological limitations, the results from this study do
socialized to put the needs of others before their       make a valuable contribution to our knowledge
own. As a result, they spent their lives caring for      of women’s retirement. Specifically, marital sta-
husbands, children, or aging parents and worked          tus does appear to influence how women experi-
in jobs that involved doing for others as well. Re-      ence retirement, beginning with their decision to
tirement, for them, offered a unique opportunity         retire and continuing through their social relation-
for self-discovery and personal fulfillment. At the      ships and choices pertaining to how their lives are
same time, these unmarried women also recog-             structured in retirement.
nized the challenge of living in retirement without
                                               Exploring thE influEncE                                                57



     Future research in the area of women’s retire-           Kim, J., & Moen, P. (2002). Retirement transitions, gen-
ment would benefit from the recognition of the                     der, and psychological well-being: A life-course,
importance of women’s marital status to their re-                  ecological model. Journals of Gerontology: Psycho-
tirement experiences. Existing research suggests                   logical Sciences and Social Sciences, 57, 212-222.
                                                              Lincoln, Y., & Guba, E. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry.
that marital status can influence the social sup-
                                                                   Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
port networks of retired women, their activities in
                                                              Marks, N., & Lambert, J. (1998). Marital status conti-
retirement, and their retirement satisfaction (Dor-                nuity and change among young and midlife adults.
fman & Moffet, 1987; Price, 2002). However, these                  Journal of Family Issues, 19, 652-686.
preliminary investigations are limited. Additional            Moen, P., Fields, V., Quick, H., & Hofmeister, H. (2000).
research is needed that will consider the diverse                  A life course approach to retirement and social in-
marital patterns women currently represent and                     tegration. In K. Pillemer, P. Moen, E. Wethington,
explore how having a spouse or partner in lat-                     & N. Glasgow (Eds.), Social integration in the sec-
er life might benefit or limit women’s retirement.                 ond half of life (pp. 75-107). Baltimore: John Hop-
The findings of the present study, as well as previ-               kins University Press.
ous research, indicated that marriage in retirement           Patton, M. (2002). Qualitative research evaluation meth-
                                                                   ods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
may lead to women experiencing involuntary re-
                                                              Pienta, A., Hayward, M., & Jenkins, K. (2000). Health
tirement as a result of pressure from a spouse or
                                                                   consequences of marriage for the retirement years.
care-giving responsibilities. What requires further                Journal of Family Issues, 21, 559-586.
attention is whether the nature of women’s retire-            Pillemer, K., Moen, P., Wethington, E., & Glasgow, N.
ment decisions (voluntary vs. involuntary) affects                 (2000). Social integration in the second half of life.
their retirement satisfaction. The results of this                 Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.
study also indicated the need for further investi-            Price, C. (2002). Professional women’s retirement: The
gations into the retirement experiences of unmar-                  impact of employment. Journal of Women and Ag-
ried women (i.e., divorced, widowed, and never-                    ing, 14, 41-57.
married), specifically with regard to the freedom             Price, C., & Joo, E. (2005). Exploring the relationship
they may experience in retirement and the chal-                    between marital status and women’s retirement
                                                                   satisfaction. International Journal of Aging and
lenges associated with this autonomy.
                                                                   Human Development, 61, 37-55.
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