Retirement brings different rewards for husbands and wives

August 23, 1999

Psychologists find retired men are happiest when they go back to work and their wives stay at home

Can two people who have enjoyed a successful marriage for three decades share a retirement without driving each other crazy? The answer is "no" in some cases, according to new research being presented at the American Psychological Association's 107th Annual Convention in Boston, August 20-24.

Noting that most couples do not retire at the exact same time, psychologists Jungmeen E. Kim, Ph.D., and Phyllis Moen, Ph.D., of Cornell University, found various levels of marital satisfaction and depression for different combinations of employment and retirement. Newly retired women tend to be more depressed than continuously retired or not-yet-retired women, especially if their husbands remained employed. Newly retired men experience more marital conflict than nonretired men. In addition, newly retired men with employed wives tend to show higher martial conflict than newly retired men with nonemployed wives. However, men who are retired and re-employed with wives who are not employed have a higher morale than couples where neither spouse is working.

"This suggests that late mid-life men in our sample appear to be more satisfied with their lives when their spouses are following traditional gender role expectations," states Dr. Kim.

"For men, postretirement employment appears to be beneficial for their psychological well-being. Those who are retired and re-employed report the highest morale and lowest depression," said the authors. "By contrast, men who are retired and not re-employed experience the lowest morale and most depression." The researchers did not find the same statistical differences for women who became re-employed.

Drs. Kim and Moen's study included 534 married men and women between the ages of 50 and 74 who were either retired for a long time, newly retiring or soon-to-be retired. Their study is unique for two reasons. It examines the retirement transition for couples, not just individuals. It also considers the implications of paid work following retirement, an increasingly common phenomenon, which is usually part time and by choice.

"We do not see retirement as a one-way, one-time, irreversible exit from paid work," states Dr. Kim. "Many retirees go on to new careers or are rehired back as consultants by their old employers." In this study, the researchers define retirement as receiving a pension from their career employer or social security.

"It is crucial to consider the work/retirement status of both partners because each spouse's retirement transition represents an important life event for the couple, requiring adjustment on the part of both spouses," said the authors.

Presentation: "Couples' Work Status and Psychological Well-Being in Older Adults" by Jungmeen E. Kim, Ph.D., and Phyllis Moen, Ph.D., Cornell University, Session 4639, 3:00 PM - 4:50 PM, August 23, 1999.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office.
Jungmeen E. Kim, Ph.D., can be reached by e-mail at or at 607-255-1119.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 159,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

American Psychological Association

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