This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, September 7, 2018

Are Baby Boomer Women Redefining Retirement?

As each new generation comes along, there is a tendency to focus on the group at its younger ages (e.g., the publicity now being given to iGen aka Generation Z). But keep in mind that each successively older generation is changing the world that younger generations will move into. For example, a new paper in the journal Sociology Compass addresses the issue of how Baby Boomer women are redefining retirement. The authors, Anne-Maree Sawyer and Sara James, are both Australian sociologists, but their paper covers things going on in the U.S. and the U.K, as well as in Australia. These are general principles, not just country-specific.
As a consequence of the large‐scale entry of women into the labour force from the 1960s (Toossi, 2002), the baby boomers1 are the first generation of women to encounter retirement since its institutionalisation as an expected (male) life course transition in the early‐mid 20th century (Kohli, 2007).
You can see three important issues here: (1) the concept of retirement was built around men retiring from full-time work outside the home; (2) there has been a tremendous increase in the proportion of women who work outside the home; and (3) this gender shift is affecting Baby Boomers in a way no previous generation was affected.
Many baby boomer women entered the labour force as “pioneers,” moving far beyond the domestic worlds of their mothers. Now, facing retirement in the early decades of the 21st century, they inhabit a social landscape in which “the old ideology and the new are tangled together” (Onyx & Benton, 1996, p. 20). In an era of delayed and intensive parenting, public policy emphases on home‐based care for older people, and the rise of the “sandwich generation” (Brody, 1990), social science scholars claim that women are more engaged in intergenerational family care‐giving than previously (Moen & Lam, 2015, p. 595; Vreugdenhil, 2014).
Compared with men's employment histories, women's more heterogeneous patterns of employment—characterised by career interruptions and fragmentation, higher rates of part‐time and casual employment, unpaid work and family care‐giving—are generating gendered inequalities in retirement incomes (Foster, 2012; Shuey & O'Rand, 2004; Slevin & Wingrove, 1995). It is estimated that only 20 percent of boomer women will be “comfortable” in their retirement (Dailey, 2000; Ray Karpen, 2017), despite prevailing popular images of baby boomer retirees as intrepid adventurers spending their children's inheritance (Arlington, 2017; Brown, 2012; Edmunds, 2017).
Given improvements in life expectancy over time, and hoped-for improvements in health--not just life--at the older ages, and given the fact that women tend to live longer than men, it seems reasonable to assume that Baby Boomer women will delay full retirement, at least partly because they won't be able to afford to not keep working. The experiences of this first generation of women moving so much more completely into their own retirement than previous generations will offer important guidance for how younger generations should think about their own aging process.

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