What Men Can Learn from Women About Retirement

Men are more aggressive investors. But here’s where women have an edge.

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When I announced my decision to retire several years ago, people generally responded in one of two ways. The first group pretty consistently warned me against retiring. They predicted that I would be bored to tears within the first six months or asked, “What will you do?” The second group of people expressed excitement about my plans. They rattled off the myriad of activities they would enjoy if only they had all that extra time. It never occurred to them to ask how I would fill my days. After a few months, I became adept at predicting people’s responses on the basis of one factor: Whether they were a man or a woman.

[See 10 Places to Reinvent Your Life in Retirement.]

Women have many struggles to overcome when it comes to the goal of retirement, but finding enjoyment in their golden years is not one of them. Women generally arrive at retirement with smaller nest eggs due to a number of factors including lower lifetime earnings and less aggressive investment styles then their male peers. And since women generally live longer than men, this is a big problem because their nest eggs will need to carry them through a longer lifespan. Despite being less financially prepared for retirement, women are enjoying retired life more than men, according to a recent study by BMO Financial Group.

Women are less confident about their financial knowledge, less tolerant of risk, and more fearful about their futures, but they are more likely to seek the advice of financial planners. The BMO study found that for men, money represents status, whereas for women it represents security. But most importantly, men tend to derive their sense of purpose from work, while women look for meaning in relationships. This puts women at an advantage when it comes to creating an enjoyable retirement.

[See Happy People Save More Money for Retirement.]

The results of this study are consistent with an older study by Cornell University that found that men were happier in retirement if they chose to engage in some sort of work after leaving their careers. This didn’t hold true for the women in the study. I have often joked that men don’t need to quit their jobs to enjoy their hobby. They get to golf in the middle of the day and call it work. But women have a significant edge in achieving happy retirements since they are more likely to have nurtured meaningful relationships and to have developed varied interests over the years leading to retirement.

[See 7 Signs You’re Not Ready for Retirement.]

Clearly, women and men both have some retirement planning needs to work on. Women need to hone their financial management skills by learning how to invest and perhaps engaging planners earlier in the process. Men need to start looking at retirement as more than just a number. To be happy in retirement, men will also need to find a new sense of purpose, which will mean building relationships and interests outside of work and golf.

Sydney Lagier is a former certified public accountant. Since retiring in 2008 at the age of 44, she has been writing about the transition from productive member of society to gal of leisure at her blog, Retirement: A Full-Time Job.