“I have decided that I will never retire.”

Who says this? NO ONE EVER. However, even though this is perhaps not verbalized, it seems as if many people, primarily men, make this decision… even if they never actively voice it. They say it in their actions.

Why is this the case?

There are likely many reasons why people delay retirement. I am focusing this blog on men as the transition to retirement, while challenging for us all, seems to be particularly challenging for men in our society. Why is that?

Here are my top 3 reasons:

  • Financial: Prior to the late 1970’s, Americans were accustomed to retiring with a pension from their employer. This income, along with Social Security, allowed people to retire at 65. The 401-K plan was initially developed in 1978 and went unnoticed for a few years. Beginning in the 1980’s, businesses began shifting the burden to workers to save in these types of plans and pensions were increasingly reduced/eliminated.

Unfortunately, Americans did not embrace the idea of saving for the long term in this way. Data from 2021 indicates that the average 401-K balance at retirement is about $83,000. This is not enough money to truly live on for years of retirement. Ultimately, many people need to continue working as they cannot afford to retire. Men can see this financial short fall as their fault, and therefore, they need to keep working.

  • Sex role stereotypes. There have always been ideas/beliefs about what a “traditional man” or “traditional woman” should do in life. These ideas were the basis of inequality and discrimination in many environments, including the workplace. However, we are now “enlightened” enough to not be influenced by these beliefs, correct?

Unfortunately, these beliefs are alive and well. Workplaces and workers are still strongly influenced by many of these ideas. This means that men believe that it is their job to earn money and that this is major part of their role in life. If they are not actively earning an income, they are failing in their role.

  • Fear of retirement. I saved the “best for last.” I see this reason as one of the main reasons that men struggle with retirement. This fear is linked in with a man’s identity. Many men have their identity formed around their job or career. This may work for them until they get to the place where it is time to retire. “Who am I without my career?” “How will I define myself?” “What will I do?”

When I was growing up, my sister had a poster on her wall which read, “Not to decide is to decide.” She had to explain it to my young mind but eventually I did understand what it meant.  

This expression holds true for many people, in this case men, who are stymied when confronting a transition to life beyond their career. They simply delay their decision. It becomes a decision they continue to put off. They “decide to not decide” which, as the poster said, is a decision in and of itself.

However, this can lead men to just stay in their role as a worker at a time when they would ideally enjoy the “fruits of their labors.” There are so many options for activities/ hobbies/involvements if men would simply allow themselves to consider. Which careers lead people to work the longest? You can find a list here.

So, what are men to do? I was very pleased to have the chance to talk about these and other issues with Michael Kay, the host of “Chapter X”, a podcast about men’s transition to retirement. You can find information about his podcast here: http://bitly.ws/s3Q2

The link to our conversation can be found here: http://bitly.ws/s8BC

I hope that this material is helpful to any of you out there struggling with your next step professionally. Don’t let fear impede your transition to retirement.

Be well!

Photo: Image by Christopher Flaten

@cflatens