Women and Retirement Discussion/March and April 1998


Query From Sue Warner sue_neil@msn.com 30 Mar 1998

Having recently moved to Arizona, I have noticed numerous articles (usually not positive in tone) in the local newspapers on "winter visitors"-- retirees who spend the winter months in Arizona nd the summer months in their home states in the north. I also frequently hear from students their negative comments about winter visitors. This has caused me to wonder if there are any sociological or historical studies on retirement.

Sine retirement as we know it today is of fairly recent origin (dating from social security legislation during the New Deal), I'm interested in learning how it is perceived by both men and women. My suspicion is that women's reactions to retirement have been different from men's in the past, since until recently women didn't have "careers" from which to retire, but that this may be changing due to the increasing number of women who have entered the full-time, career workforce. Since I have just begun to think about this issue, I'm wondering if anyone out there has any thoughts on this? Am Ione the right track or way off mark? Any suggestions on places to begin investigating this issue? Any comments or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks to all in advance.

Responses:

From Lauren Clark laurclark@aol.com 31 Mar 1998

I lived in various areas of Florida for several years. Believe me, the animosity for "snow birds" is not confined to Arizona. In Florida it is some kind of joke that folks from the NE go to Miami/Ft. Lauderdale and midwesterners go to western Florida. All I can say is that without their contributions to the various local economies, things would be different.

On a more serious note, I don't recall if you mentioned your area is American or European. Mine is women and European but I have done scant reading in women's history in the US. I think "retirement" is a recent phenomena in labor history. Even for men. I find labor history a bit "dry" but it would be interesting to note the differences between economies with socialism as their basis and those of capitalist societies. (See, I have been reading labor history. <LOL>) I know there are those far wiser than I on this list.

From Eileen Walsh ewalsh@vax1.bemidji.msus.edu 31 March 1998

I don't know about retirement in the southern states, but in Minnesota we experience the reverse migration--those who live in warmer climates but visit here for cooler summers and outdoor recreational opportunities. Tourism studies have long noted that visitors are often not welcome, though they are wanted, especially when the local economy thrives on the presence of those visitors. I think tourism literature in general might be helpful, although no doubt there are particular aspects to having an older crowd around (issues about counties providing health care, licensing of older drivers, etc). I cannot address the gender aspect of this question, however.

From Julie Landweber jlandweb@compuserve.com 01 April 1998

In July or August 1997, if memory serves me, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a lengthy article on women and retirement. The point of the article was that now that the first American generation with vast numbers of women to enter the full-time workforce is edging into retirement age, statisticians are learning that for a variety of reasons many women of 65 and over are not retiring, even while their husbands are. In many cases these are women who do have "careers" from which to retire, but they are choosing to remain in the workforce many years longer than their husbands, whether because the couple cannot afford to have both members retire, or because the women enjoy their work life, or because they simply do not feel ready to retire.

It is a fascinating issue -- I am curious as to whether the generally longer lifespan of women relative to men may require a rethinking of the standard retirement age, now that women make up more and more of America's full time workforce. Of course, that's more of a public policy question than a historical question at this point, but in general I suspect the subject of retirement may be due for some serious gender analysis if it hasn't already received it.

From Sue J. Harris sharris@csc.sctboces.org 01 April 1998

Not exactly certain what type of information you are looking for, but let me just say that as a 55-year-old (young) woman who is retiring as of the 15th of this month, I certainly hope I am not going to become an outcast! I have lots of living and learning left to do and would fervently hope that I will still be acceptable in society whether it be with the younger generation or others!

From Amanda Barusch barusch@aol.com 01 April 1998

In the field of aging there is a pretty voluminous literature on individual reactions to retirement. That, along with material on the "empty nest" would probably give you the gender contrast you're looking for. I'm sorry that I can't think of an author - but The Gerontologist is a good source for this kind of material.

From what I read about Sun City residents organizing to oppose school bonds, I'm surprised there's not outright resentment directed toward all migrants who retire to Phoenix. It's pretty hard to maintain community services (not to mention schools) when residents don't have an investment in the community - until, that is, they become frail and sick and need services!

From JoAnn Castagna joann-castagna@uiowa.edu 01 April 1998

While demographic changes have produced a larger proportion of the population who live long enough to make a transition from work-for-pay or work-in-the-home to something that is now called "retirement," this is not really a new phenomenon. Cultures have long asked questions about the shape of individuals' lives, and the role of work in those lives, and I imagine that both Sociological and Anthropological indexes could direct one to a lot of research on the roles of women as they grow older, and how those roles change their relationship to work in the home and outside of it.

From Genevieve G. McBride gmcbride@csd.uwm.edu 01 April 1998

Echoing the response from Minnesota, we in Wisconsin experience seasonal reverse migration, to the extent that tourism is our number-one industry. The state tourism council sends out data and reports all the time -- along with lots of promotional info to make us realize how important tourists are to our economy. (What we really dislike is what they do on our freeways, going 'way too fast, especially dragging boats and trailers. As most come from Illinois, we warn them with bumper stickers about FIP's, which stands for, um, foolish Illinois people.)

Some of the stats I've seen indicate that a very sizeable segment of these tourists are retirees. I know of several such couples in which both spouses worked, and I think I have seen data which suggest soaring home ownership by singles here (I pay attention, since I'm one of them and had trouble getting a mortgage not long ago), which might be useful.

BTW, in my research on Wisconsin history, I found evidence that "snowbirds" are nothing new. One of the first editors of the oldest newspaper here was run out of town (for, of course, supporting temperance) and went south, becoming one of the first governors of Florida. That was in the 1830s.

From Melanie Buddle buddlem@uvic.ca 01 April 1998

There is a study (sociology perhaps?) on the "culture/lifestyles" of camper-van folks - that is, people who roam the U.S. in those big trailer homes. All I know is that the book is written by an American couple, and they did some field work - they actually bought a trailer home and hooked up on the circuit. Apparently, people in this lifestyle don't actually have a "home base," once they retire? They just drive everywhere, but esp. to warm places!. This is interesting, because it is not just about a Nomadic "vehicle" culture; it also has to do with retirement, as it is primarily late-middle aged or retired people who embark on this sort of lifestyle. Does anyone know the details on this book? Obviously, it isn't actually a history text but it still might be interesting.

From Kathy Smith Franklin gosuns95@imap1.asu.edu 01 April 1998

This is a fascinating topic to me, because I have lived in the Phoenix area all of my life and have seen many winter visitors. When I grew up in Scottsdale, in January you could always tell the "snowbirds" from the locals--tourists wore shorts, and residents wore coats. Even though our economy depends a great deal on tourism, and the state government promotes it, animosity toward the visitors seems pervasive in the local papers. Perhaps this is because the residents envy those who have enough money to retire AND travel. Just to digress for a second, have you seen the bumper sticker, "So many snowbirds, so little freezer space"?

Anyway, back to the topic of the gendered aspects of retirement. I have a friend who has spent her life as a homemaker. After her children grew up, she developed many leisure and charitable activities, but when her husband retired, he did not have a similar daytime structure yet. He drove her crazy being around the house all day with nothing to do and even reorganized her kitchen for her, unasked. They eventually resolved that problem by getting him involved in his own volunteer work, but the point is that even when the woman has not had a job or career to retire from, retirement affects men and women in different ways. Most women I know who have worked all of their lives at salaried jobs took another job after retiring from their first one because they couldn't stand the inactivity. As more baby boomers retire, and as more people live longer and healthier lives, this topic becomes more pertinent. Perhaps women are using this time to become more involved in politics, to negotiate for more independence in their relationships, and to get together with other women to bring about social change in same-sex organizations. What are retired women doing? Let's find out!

From Sydney Langdon aalan@asuvm.inre.asu.edu 02 April 1998

May I add just one thread to this? Might be helpful if whoever is researching this also compares Western women activities past 50ish with traditional cultures, where women also display what Carl Jung and Margaret Mead called "post-menopausal zest"...and begin to participate in extradomestic activities. In traditional societies, part of the situation is that until women are post menopausal, they are not allowed the freedom to become traders, religious experts,etc. Once her sexual activity is no longer of concern to her community as she can no longer bear children, the restrictions on her behavior are lifted. This has not been directly related to Western women, but shouldn't be ignored, either.

The one good text I have on this is in my office (and of course I'm home now) but I think it's by Judith Brown and ?? Kerns. BTW, I also live in Tempe, and believe that one of the claims made for Sun City is they always pass school bonds. This was true up to about 2 years ago, but I'm not sure past that date.

From Mandy Frisken afrisken@ic.sunysb.edu 02 April 1998

Megan Scott just finished a dissertation last spring at Stony Brook about retirement and gendered financial strategies, among other things, which might be of interest.

From Janet Coryell coryell@wmich.edu 02 April 1998

My mother-in-law spent a rough first year after retirement from her job as computer studies coordinator for a middle-school. She cleaned her copper pots, repapered the bathroom, griped about her husband's work hours, complained incessantly about everything and drove us all nuts. This January she volunteered at a politician's re-election campaign headquarters, first for a few hours and then for a few days. She ended up practically running the place. And for the first time in a year and a half, she is a pleasant person to be around because she is "outer" rather than "inner" directed.

I think a lot of the effect of retirement has to do with the individual, and perhaps not necessarily the gender. Whether the person has worked, is sociable (as opposed to a hermit) and needs to be around people, has hobbies or the volunteer impulse, etc., can have a real impact on how well they do and how pleasant and productive their lives are after wage-earning ends....

From Sue J. Harris sharris@csc.sctboces.org 02 April 1998

This is actually in reply to your question in the very last sentence of your posting. I know what I will do. I plan to take a few months to do many things I have not had time to do in my own home, spend more time with my wonderful grandchildren, and after I have had my fill of housework, I intend to look for a part-time job where I will meet and be around lots of different people. I really am a "people" person and don't think I would be entirely happy not meeting new people all the time.

From Sharon Firestone sharon.firestone@asu.edu 03 April 1998

You might want to look at Barbara Myerhoff's study of a Jewish retirement center in LA (I think). The title is _Number of Our Days_. While women involved are of an earlier generation, it is an excellent study of a retired group.

From K. Anderson kande2@aol.com 03 April 1998

One aspect of women's retirement that has not yet been mentioned is the fact that many women enter the labor market for the first time after their children become older, and have thus had a shorter working life than a man who retires at the conventional "retirement age." This places the woman in a difficult position: if she retires, her pension is apt to be meager--or more probably--she will not have one; if she continues to remain in the labor market, she is apt to face age discrimination and the loss of stamina connected with advancing age. And there are the many women who have faced widowhood or divorce at a later age and for whom the choice to remain in the work world is not even an option. I think that many would agree that women's retirement is yet another "double bind" issue.

From Maria Elena Raymond M_Raymond@compuserve.com 07 May 1998

You may find bits and pieces of information in the following books, including using their biblios and end notes for further information. I realize the books are dated but it's a start. I would also suggest you contact the US Bureau of Labor for current stats on women in the workforce and retired women(try also the Social Security Admin., NOW, the U.N. Office for Women, individual state Labor offices, the General Accounting Office, the Library of Congress, et al.

Davis, Angela A. _Women, Culture & Politics_(NY; Random House, 1989).

Grau, Lois R.N. and Ida Susser _Women in the Later Years: Health, Social and Cultural Perspectives_(NY; Haworth Press, 1989).

Richardson, Laurel and Verta Taylor _Feminist Frontiers III_ (NY; McGraw-Hill, 1993).

Rosaldo, Michell Zimbalist and Louise Lamphere, eds. _Women, Culture, and Society_ (Calif; Stanford U Press,1974).

Rothman, Sheila A. _Woman's Proper Place: A History of Changing Ideals and Practices, 1870 to Present_(NY; Basic Books, Inc., 1978).