Date of Award

2002

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Human Development

Advisor

Marc Baranowski

Second Committee Member

Sandra S. Butler

Third Committee Member

Renate Klein

Abstract

This study explores the experiences of retirement-age Maine women (age 65 or older) who are still in the workforce. According to the U.S. Census, just 10 percent of women in this age group were in the national workforce in the year 2000. Yet various socioeconomic factors suggest that more older workers will stay at work longer, reversing a long-standing trend toward earlier retirement. For women, such factors include improved health and longevity; concentration in the low-wage work sector; career interruptions; the high incidence of divorce; inadequate retirement savings; and personal investment in careers. Thus, the experiences of today's older working women may suggest issues that will be significant for succeeding cohorts. This study, conducted in 2001-2002, examines the experiences of 14 employed Maine women between the ages of 66 and 84, using qualitative interviews. Professional (8) and nonprofessional (6) informants were located in 11 Maine localities, rural and urban. Each participated in open-ended interviews lasting about one and a half hours. The mean age of the respondents is 75 years; they work an average of 37 hours weekly. Our interviews explored such issues as the characteristics of their current jobs; education; employment histories; lifetime experiences with caregiving; current health status; the factor of age; and the women's reasons for remaining at work. Half the women reported that their age made little difference in their working lives; others reported greater challenges. All, however, seemed to have found work well fitted to their current needs, interests, and abilities. Several studies of retirement trends predict that professional and nonprofessional women will remain in the workforce for different reasons--one group largely because of I economic need and poor preparation for retirement, the other because of intrinsic job satisfaction and to maintain comfortable lifestyles. Such a clearcut division was not evident among the participants in this study. Both groups reported similar reasons for not having retired: enjoyment of their work; lack of interest in a conventional retirement; opportunities to socialize with co-workers; a wish to keep active and involved; and the benefits of a regular paycheck. Both groups were also similar in having had "femalew-pattern careers: that is, work lives characterized by significant interruptions related to caregiving, and work histories that were influenced by family responsibilities. Despite a lifetime of work-both paid employment, and labor on behalf of their families-four informants were judged to be "within poverty's reach." That is, they were at risk of falling into poverty or nearpoverty, according to federal income guidelines, if their life circumstances changed significantly. Policy analysts have urged that women should adopt "male" career patterns-- involving continuous employment at better-paying jobs that offer retirement benefits--as the best way to enhance their retirement security. This study argues that such a prescription fails to acknowledge that women may balance a complex of priorities throughout their adult lives, involving family and paid work, and that providing for their later-life financial security may require a set of policy prescriptions that does not treat male career patterns as normative.

Share