Work-Life Imbalances Spur Retirement

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When young people are dissatisfied with a job or feel it intrudes too much on their personal lives, they find a new one. Not so easy for older workers.

Their decision is complicated partly because they have fewer employment options as they age, but also because they must ask themselves whether or not it’s time to retire.

A study out of the University of Michigan’s Retirement Research Center found that people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s often choose to retire when long hours, inflexible schedules, and work responsibilities don’t allow them to do what’s required to help a family member or a sick spouse or to enjoy more leisure time.

Many things are constantly pushing and pulling older workers toward retirement, from lower pay, job stress, or unrealistic job demands to accumulating their required pension credits or having enough money in the bank. But the focus here is on lifestyle.

Marco Angrisani and Erik Meijer at the University of Southern California and Maria Casanova at California State University used a survey of some 6,000 older workers that asks about work-life conflicts and then followed them for nearly a decade to see if such conflicts led to decisions to reduce their hours of work or retire altogether.

The main takeaway was that both older men and older women who’ve had a work-life conflict in the past two years are far more likely to retire. This may not be surprising for women, who are typically the default caregivers for an ailing spouse, parent, or even a grandchild.

But the study also shows that men, for whom earning a living has always been the top priority, are willing to make the big decision to retire if they perceive that work is interfering with their private lives. This is especially true for men who are working part-time.

The researchers also looked at the decisions made in the wake of a sudden and specific event – their spouse has a health crisis, say cancer or a stroke, or develops a chronic disease like diabetes or heart disease. They found that, after a spouse’s health shock, both husbands and wives become less likely to remain in full-time employment. Interestingly, workers who already feel that their work and personal lives are out of balance are more prone to move into part-time work or retire after a crisis.

Money should be a major consideration at a time that a hefty percentage of older Americans aren’t prepared to retire. But when life gets in the way, family sometimes trumps money.

The research reported herein was performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes 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.