The headline spoke to me: “More Women in Their 60s and 70s Are Having ‘Way Too Much Fun’ to Retire.” After reading the article, which didn’t disappoint, by Claire Cain Miller in last Sunday’s New York Times, even though I’ve been at odds lately with The Times, I think there is more to the story than fun.
Two recent analyses indicate that “women have become significantly more likely to work into their 60s and even 70s, often full time” and “many of these women report that they do it because they enjoy it,” according to the article. For those 65-69 years of age,-the numbers have almost doubled since the late 1980s from 15 percent to nearly 30 percent.
Perhaps more surprising is the leap in percentage terms for those 70-74 years of age, more than doubling from 8 to 18 percent.
Who are these women?
Those working are more likely to be higher educated and to have savings, studies have shown, while those not working more commonly are in poor health and have low savings, depending on Social Security and perhaps disability. But for their health problems, they too might be among those working.
Why, if they don’t strictly need the money, are the women of “a certain age” still working?
I can offer some of the answers from my own life. Working, full or part time, is more than just “fun,” although there is nothing wrong with enjoying one’s work. A job can offer a purpose to those who are now empty nesters or perhaps without spouses. There is satisfaction in having one’s daily accomplishments measured in some way, whether with salary or by problems solved. Presumably holding a job offers something of value to community and society.
There is also the social aspect of interacting with others and working as a team. Social ties are linked to longer life spans. In addition, working, unless at a job that is exactly the same each day and could be done by a robot, requires thinking and planning, which in turn helps exercise the brain. And the structure that reporting for work imposes in the course of a week might be welcomed by many.
Sometimes working might be a way to preserve a marriage. In a household where the husband might have been the sole breadwinner but is now retired, the spouses might not be completely comfortable with that new arrangement. Work is a respected reason to be apart some of each day.
There might also be a sort of prestige in still working. When people are retired, they may be asked, “What did you do?” as if life has now passed them by. That’s opposed to “What kind of work do you do?” Having a job might convey greater importance.
If the work one does is inherently engaging and one learns from it and meets interesting people, there might be the motivation to keep one’s hand in and stay abreast of new developments and changes in the field.
And no matter how much savings one might reasonably have, drawing down dollars in retirement can be scary. The urge is to stay in place financially and not to drop down. Bringing a stream of income into one’s life can offset that fear.
Finally, for many there is the absolute necessity to earn money in order to survive. They may wish to retire but feel they are unable to afford that luxury.
Whatever the reasons, society benefits from the continuing efforts of experienced workers. It goes without saying that our newspapers treasure older workers alongside our young.