Should Couples Retire Together or Separately?

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

The pros and cons of each

So, the two of you are at that blessed point in life where one or either of you can retire (or you wish to reach that point at some point in the future). But you’re afraid — if one of you retires, will the two of you grow apart, being in completely different phases of life? Or will the one who continues to work develop resentment when they see the other relaxing while they slog it out?

But if you retire together, won’t you get tired of seeing each other all the time? Or maybe it just doesn’t work financially for your household to lose both incomes?

These questions are as real as the quantum of your retirement corpus when it comes to retirement planning. So, don’t think that it is only you who is overthinking this entire thing. The timing of retirement of couples has a very real impact on not just your financial life, but also your mental and even physical health.

1. Retiring together

By far, this is the most desired outcome for couples. And one in four couples does manage to retire within a year of each other.

The advantages are many.

  • First and foremost, it is the culmination of many years of working together to finally sail off into the sunset together. Retiring together, though it may be unsettling for one or both partners, can be a time that couples in healthy relationships find support and solace in each other. It can strengthen dormant bonds that have been suffering due to work and children always taking priority.
  • Some retirement activities, like traveling or spending time with family, can happen most optimally if both partners have flexible schedules. If your retirement plans are to backpack across Central Europe together (when we do get to the point where we can travel freely again!), the working partner’s Zoom calls and never-ending emails can be a big turn-off.
  • There is little scope for resentment. When both partners have retired, there need not be much reshuffling of household chores, unless of course, one partner was overburdened before. Life can continue as per usual, except that you now have 8–10 hours of your day back. Even if one partner decides to chill and relax for all of those 10 hours, the other partner has little room to complain — the chores have remained the same after all.
  • It is great to finally have a workout buddy! The CDC states that having a workout buddy can make you more consistent and more motivated to keep up a workout regime. Since so many of us look forward to retirement to finally devote time and attention to our bodies, doing so with a partner can make it even more achievable, and more importantly, a lot of fun.

The disadvantages are also many, unfortunately:

  • The retirement corpus that you require for the two of you to retire simultaneously is much, much larger than what you would if one of you continues to work for just a couple of years.
  • It may be important for one of you to delay retirement by just a bit, to ensure the maximum Social Security benefits.
  • Medicare only kicks in at 65. If both of you retire together and are below 65 years of age, you would have to make alternative arrangements till then, which may be a big expense.
  • Mentally, if the couple finds themselves a bit off-kilter by suddenly finding themselves without ‘work’ in the morning, it may be easy to take it out on the other or blame them for it.

2. Retiring separately

Although most couples want to retire together, only 1 in 4 successfully manages to do so. That means that the other 3 in 4 couples are retiring separately. Most likely, it is the male partner who retires first, being the older one (usually).

If you are one of them or anticipate being one of them, don’t worry. There are real and big advantages to this situation too.

Advantages:

  • The financial advantages cannot be overstated. One person continuing to work gives your retirement corpus a few extra years to grow — which can make all the difference for when the second partner does decide to retire.
  • The continuation of benefits like health insurance can be a gamechanger too.
  • Because married couples usually have a few years of difference in age, it may be that the two of you simply aren’t ready to retire at the same time. Since it is usually women who are younger, added to the fact that women also tend to take the maximum time out from the workforce, they might not have reached a position in their career where they feel that it is time to hang up their shoes. Given such a situation, rather than have one or the other partner resent the other for either retiring before they are ready, or because they can’t retire till the other person is ready simply to retire together, it is better than the one who is ready retires.
  • Also, some careers are associated with more burnout, while others are relatively relaxing. If one partner needs to retire right then and there, while the other loves to work, go right ahead and do that!
  • There is also something to be said for the space such a situation gives the individual partners. Retirement can be a drastic and abrupt change in one’s life, and having some time alone to get used to it can help in reaching new homeostasis for a couple, rather than being off-kilter and on top of each other all the time.

Disadvantages:

  • Reallocation of household chores and general life administration can be frustrating. When you have spent a few decades doing broadly the same chores, it can be frustrating for both the new partner to learn new ones, and for the other partner to have someone do it in a way that is ‘not the way it is done!
  • On the other hand, if these chores aren’t reallocated, it can lead to resentment building up, because one person is now the sole breadwinner and as such, deserves some time off instead of coming home to half the chores.
  • It is crucial that you have a shared view of how much you can spend as a household. Shifting from a two-income household to a one-income household can be difficult, even more, difficult than moving to a zero-income one! When you are both retired, everyone is on the same page regarding what the retirement corpus is and how much you can spend for it to last. But continuing to have one income can lead to a false sense of comfort.

So who should retire first?

Okay, so you’ve decided that only one of you can retire. Also, this decision is because you want to continue with the benefits (like health insurance, or you want to maximize social security) or the income.

As such, any one of you can retire first. But who should?

If one of you has more reason to retire, for example, if one is burnt out or has some health issues, this is a no-brainer. Similarly, if one partner wants to continue working, so be it.

But what if the desire to retire is pretty evenly distributed? Then what?

I’m not going to give you my opinion. Instead, I am just going to leave you with some statistics:

  • Statistics show that depressive symptoms reduce drastically for women who retire — so yay!
  • The same statistics also show that depressive symptoms increase drastically for men who retire.
  • Retired Husband Syndrome is a stress-induced illness that is prevalent among older Japanese women whose husbands have retired. This syndrome has physical manifestations like high blood pressure, depression, and even asthma.

Again, I am not saying who should retire, or rather who shouldn’t retire given a choice, but the research sure is 🙂

Retirement is anything but a simple decision. It lies right at the intersection of finances, politics, health — physical and mental, and relationships. While personal finance gurus would have you look only at the financial aspect, the all-important ‘number’, it is you who has to live your retirement, so you better make it one of your dreams!

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