Should Couples Retire at the Same Time?

Three couples discuss how they decided.

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Terry and Kathleen McLaughlin: Terry McLaughlin, 64, was executive vice president of the Seattle SuperSonics professional basketball team until he retired last month and set some new goals for himself. "I'm looking forward to more time to read all the things that you always wanted to read but never seem to find time to, studying languages, and learning a musical instrument," he says.

However, his wife, Kathleen, a construction management executive who is six years his junior, won't be retiring anytime soon. "I tried to talk her into the idea that she might want to retire, and it was pretty clear that she wasn't ready to do that yet. I'm comfortable with that," Terry McLaughlin says. "I think it will give me the opportunity to have a time of reflection that I might not have if we were retiring at the same time. We both won't be knocking around the house at the same time."

With more women in the workforce, retirement becomes a decision that a married couple must coordinate together. Sometimes, a workable solution is for one to keep working for a while when the other retires. "Most people do try to time it around the same time," says Phyllis Moen, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota. "They need to talk about what they would like and what's feasible and plan for their lifestyles as well as their finances." This advice holds whether couples retire at the same time or years apart.

Norman and Carol Schnall: The Schnalls worked in advertising and healthcare, respectively, in New York before taking positions in a family business, tried to retire together in 2005, and ended up retiring within a year of each other. "I think it probably works better if you both do it at the same time," says Norman Schnall, 70, who retired slightly before his wife, now 66, and knew he wanted to travel.

"If one of you is retired and the other is still working at a schedule, that can lead to resentment on the part of the person who has retired toward the person who has not. You may feel that the person who is still working is preventing you from achieving your retirement goals," Schnall says.

Or it can lead to resentment on the part of the partner still working about how much free time the retiree has. The Schnalls have traveled to Turkey, Australia, and New Zealand. "I think that it's important to have some lengthy and frequent discussions over a prolonged period of time before you actually take the step," Schnall says. "It's kind of a tricky path that has to be navigated very carefully. It's important for both partners to understand the potential pitfalls and to come to some agreement about how the plan is going to work."

But other couples find a way to make it work when one is still tied to the office. Maryanne Vandervelde, a psychologist and author of Retirement for Two, says many women continue to work after their husbands retire: "Women, in my experience, get energized about their jobs after they are out of their child-rearing years. They want pensions, and they tend to stay at their jobs."

Chris and Robin Mangini: Chris Mangini, 51, of Cassville, N.Y, plans to work about five more years managing a youth development program. Her husband, Robin, 57, retired from a technical position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture last May, swapping his full-time management job for a similar 25-hour-a-week consulting position he started the next day. "I just went from one job to the next doing the same thing without all the strings attached of a management position, which really made it easy to retire," Robin Mangini says.

At first, Chris Mangini had reservations. "For me, in the beginning, I was envious because my husband didn't have to go to work, and I still had to go to work," she says. "I love my job, but I had to work the same time I always did, and he could go off to work when needed and when he wanted to go in."

But retiring at different times also brought perks. Robin could spend more time with the couple's 7-year-old daughter, Danielle. "My husband gets her on the bus in the morning, and he's here when she gets off the bus at the end of the day," Chris says.