Retirement Transition Reading: The Retirement Maze


July 29, 2014 by Jean

14366416Recently, a reader recommended that I take a look at The Retirement Maze: What You Should Know Before and After You Retire by Rob Pascale, Louis H. Primavera and Rip Roach (Rowman and Littlefield 2012). The three authors are all social science researchers with specializations in either market research or behavioral psychology. The book was motivated by the experiences of the first author, Rob Pascale, who took early retirement (at age 51) and quickly discovered that he was prepared for retirement financially but not psychologically. The analysis presented in this book combines his experiences of retirement with responses from a survey of 1500 retirees (with a comparison group of 400 workers), and a number of sociological and social psychology theoretical perspectives that can help make sense of the data.

The Retirement Maze focuses on non-financial aspects of retirement, and particularly on how subjective well-being (aka “happiness”) is affected by retirement. The book considers how various factors surrounding retirement (e.g., whether retirement was voluntary or not, preconceptions about retirement, goals for retirement, physical and financial health, and more) influence well-being in retirement. The authors do a particularly good job of looking at the importance of social roles in our sense of identity and at what happens when retirees lose their work-related roles. I found their analysis of how features of early retirement exacerbate the experience of role loss particularly compelling, and I think their chapter on early retirement should be required reading for those contemplating retiring before their peers.

The Retirement Maze provides a valuable analysis of barriers to well-being in retirement and how to address those problems. I think the book is especially useful for readers who are most like the authors, men with careers in business or the professions. The authors use their own experiences as a foundation for their analysis, and a resulting weakness is the lack of a good class or gender analysis. As a woman, I often found their male-focused perspective frustrating. For example, they note that well-being in retirement is greatest for those who retire by choice and they also recommend that couples retire together; they don’t seem to recognize that, since women are generally younger than their husbands, wives may be pressured to retire before they are ready in order to accommodate their husbands’ retirement timing. A good gender analysis would also have helped them to make sense of their finding that, while women often make a better adjustment than men in the first years of retirement, over time men’s satisfaction and well-being increase while women’s decline.

The Retirement Maze provides a good introduction to social science research and theory about retirement, a good analysis of factors that shape the retirement experience, and practical advice about how to make your own retirement better. Although some retirees (e.g., white collar men and those contemplating or experiencing early retirement) are particularly likely to find this analysis helpful, the book includes something of value for anyone preparing for, transitioning to, or adjusting to retirement.

7 thoughts on “Retirement Transition Reading: The Retirement Maze

  1. I seem to be living the early retirement experience which is one reason I started my new blog…to document some of it. I do think there are differences, as you point out Jean, between men and women.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, I found the analysis of the early retirement experience in this book as one that includes the added challenges of being out of sync with the life changes of your peers insightful. I’d be interested in knowing if that turns out to be part of your experience. Thanks for letting me know about your new blog; I’ve added it to my blogroll here.

  2. One difference between men and women retiring from their professional careers is the housework, cooking, and washing/ironing. Women continue to do all the chores associated with keeping a home. Men can “retire” from working outside the home and pursue their hobbies while women can pursue their hobbies based around their normal chores. Yes, some husbands like mine help, but in most cases the woman is still in charge of keeping the household running. 🙂

    • Diana Studer says:

      We’ve had to find a way to divide some of the daily life housekeeping stuff – then it works better.
      How odd for sociologists to write a book about retirement for men, about men – as if women don’t count.

      • Jean says:

        Diana, I don’t want to misrepresent this book. It’s not that the authors ignore gender differences, more that they often seem mystified by them. They do point out that retirement should include a re-negotiation of the domestic division of labor; but they also recommend that the pre-retirement balance of power in a marriage should not be disturbed!

    • Jean says:

      Judy, I remember that, shortly after my father finally retired from his work as a tool and die maker, my mother announced that she thought she should get to retire too and that they should now share the housework and cooking. His response was to go out and get himself a part-time job to reclaim his breadwinner privileges! (Eventually, though, he did take on some of the housework and a little bit of the cooking.)
      I’ll have to see if someone’s collected data on this, but I think you’re most likely correct that the ‘leisure gap’ between men and women that has been documented for the working years continues into retirement.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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