Men Make Bigger Changes After Retiring

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Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. That continues to hold true in retirement.

A new study that examines two aspects of this major life change – personal and financial relationships – finds that men and women use their newfound freedom in different ways.

The change in men’s social lives after they retire is more dramatic because they greatly expand their network of friends, adult children, and extended family, and they have more conversations with them about personal matters.

Men “become more dependent on family,” concludes research by two University of Wisconsin sociologists.

Retirement doesn’t mark the same type of social shift for women, however. They already had a larger network and always took more responsibility for maintaining relationships, and not much changes in retirement – with one exception. Women increase the number of hours spent taking care of their grandchildren.

The differences are consistent across much of the western world, according to this study, which was based on surveys in the United States and Europe – from Sweden to Spain to Estonia. Although married and single people participated in the survey, the heart of the analysis was asking each individual this question:

“Looking back over the last 12 months, who are the people with whom you most often discussed things that are important to you?” Each individual listed up to five people in their networks, the nature of the relationships, and how often they are in contact.

In addition to branching out socially, retired men are more likely to give money to offspring or other family members. In married couples, this is often jointly decided by husband and wife. But the actual money transfers picked up only after the men – and not the women – retired and had more energy to devote to family.

One obvious explanation is that men in these older generations have traditionally been the primary source of financial support for the family. Another finding in the study could also be a clue: more educated men, who have more wealth to give away, are the only ones who strengthen their ties to family.

So, are they using their wealth to buy affection? The researchers don’t say that. But retirement does give men more freedom to develop the relationships that have always mattered to them. Perhaps the money just eases the way.

To read this study, authored by Won-tak Joo and Michal Engelman, see “Retirement in the Context of Intergenerational Transfers.”

The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.  The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College.  Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report.  Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

Edward P Hoffer MD

Interesting data. I have always observed that women had a much easier time after retirement, in part because they already had extensive close social ties with other women. Men’s friendships tended to be less intimate and more casual, based on shared activities. At least for the Boomer generation, men have been loath to share feelings, while women had a much easier time doing this.


My wife and I retired in 2010 (exactly as planned), both of us at 55y/o. Retirement for both of us has gone as well as planned. Both of our social lives were quite robust prior to retirement.

Retirement simply allowed us to do more of what we were already doing – she volunteered more with causes she supports; I chose to run (successfully) for public office. Both of our network of friends expanded to include retirees; mine to include other elected officials. Neither of us has expanded our contact with extended family, nor had more conversations with them about personal matters.

I don’t see myself as having become “more dependent on family” – whatever that means. Both of us have increased the number of hours spent taking care of our grandchildren. That’s one of the big pluses about being a grandparent. I certainly have become excessive in that area.

Give money to offspring or other family members? They know better than to even bring up the subject. [“Neither a borrower nor a lender be; / For loan oft loses both itself and friend.”] (That adage hasn’t changed since my working days.)

For us, money is simply a tool to live the lifestyle we desire – nothing more, nothing less. Yes, it does ease the way. But for me, nothing in the way this study portrays.

    David Rhoades

    I agree with your lending money policy, but giving money is different (there is no payback expectation), except for possibly creating dependency issues.

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