July 29, 2014 by Jean
Recently, 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.