Retirement for Singles
Written by Sharon Tabor Warren
An excellent article “Retirement, for One,” by Marilyn Gardner, appeared in the Christian Science Monitor July 11th. Ms. Gardner addressed the issues of retirement faced by singles: widowed, divorced or never married. The status, of course, can apply to both men and women but statistics indicate there’s a much higher incidence among females. Think about who is portrayed in retirement advertising—an attractive couple—and who is addressed in retirement planning—another couple. The issue of singles is seldom addressed but a high percentage of us, by the time retirement finally rolls around, find ourselves alone.
There are typically many more financial constraints for women. A study published by AARP indicates over 50% of the women in the U.S. are without any kind of pension coverage. Some of these women will draw benefits from the pension of a deceased spouse but they are few.
Additionally, women who are looking at retirement today did not work in jobs that paid as well as those held by men, and their resulting pensions are lower. Women who worked as single parents were often hard pressed to save very much and many women, in all three categories, are losing positions prior to their planned retirement age through downsizing and other economic trends.
Care giving is another concern as many of us approach retirement with parents still living. It behooves each of us to have frank discussions with parents and siblings about long-term care and how it is to be accomplished. On the flip side of that coin, those with children should plan accordingly for our own needs and expectations when fulltime care may be needed.
It has also been suggested that women might develop an alternative employment skill for retirement years. This would not be a full time high-pressure position but one that could provide supplemental income. Possibilities range from babysitting to data input to secretarial services. My own profession as a tax accountant is always open to part time and seasonal employees; training can be formal or on-the-job.
Housing is always a primary concern. My husband and I recently moved to a smaller senior-friendly house from a three-level, high maintenance home on over seventeen acres in the mountains. Among the benefits are public water, state-maintained road, proximity to town, vinyl siding, and one-level living. Many golden people give up their homes entirely and move into adult communities, condominiums or apartments where there is no maintenance. However, the cost of any of these alternatives may be prohibitive to the single woman with no pension.
Shared housing is a possibility. Hopefully, at our ages we’re past the issues that were present with shared living arrangements when we were young: loud music, parades of suitors, dirty dishes in the sink, wet towels in the bathroom and unmade beds. Sharing a home is a business as well as a personal arrangement and should be entered in a business-like manner with written agreements.
We can’t all be as fortunate as Beatrice Muller, 82, who set sail with her plans for single retirement. Mrs. Muller is living fulltime aboard the Queen Elizabeth II and pays only 55% of the advertised price because she has loyalty bonuses from five previous world cruises. She was widowed two years ago and opted to move aboard the liner where she pays less than double the cost of living in a London old people’s home which would offer only the very basic needs of daily living.
Away from Britain’s damp climate, she stops in sunny ports of call, plays bridge, attends the on-board cinema, and dances with handsome men from the ship’s crew. She has no need to shop, cook, own a car, pay utilities or maintain a telephone and she stays in touch with her family and friends by email from the QEII’s computer room.
Women tend to be joiners and adapt to single retirement living with greater ease than men. The men are typically in better financial health but find living alone without the crutch of their careers, a major social hurdle. It’s important for all single retirees to find one another and join for shared experiences: meals out, theatre, travel, other special events. Some singles might pair up but for many living single and alone is very acceptable if they’re not lonely.
It’s never too early to make tentative plans and look at the “what if” scenarios. There are excellent resources available to us for exploration in the field of single retirement (see Links above). Thinking and planning ahead is always preferable to being faced with life-changing decisions in the event of a traumatic status change.