When you or your spouse retires, does it affect your health? That depends on whether you are the husband or the wife, says Angela Curl, assistant professor of social work at the University of Missouri, who has analyzed the responses of 1,666 working couples surveyed over many years in the university's Health and Retirement Study.
Asked to evaluate their own health after their spouses' retirement, husbands are more likely to say they feel their health improves when their wives retire.
"Women tend to monitor their husbands' well-being, making sure they eat right, go to the doctor, get some exercise, socialize," Curl says.
Wives, on the other hand, didn't share that sentiment. They said their health remained the same when their husbands retired.
And when these wives retired and were asked about their own health, they generally rated it as worse during the first few years after they left their jobs, but then said it improved as time went on.
However, when the men retired and were asked about their own health, they said they believed it grew worse each year of retirement.
"The difference may be because women tend to have better social networks outside of the workplace, while men are more likely to depend on their jobs for a sense of identity, place and belonging and can become depressed without them," says Jerry G. Ingram, assistant professor of gerontology at the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff, who did not take part in the research.
"These findings are valuable," says Ingram, "but it would be helpful to separate out and analyze those who were in good health prior to retirement and those who weren't."
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Joan Rattner Heilman is a frequent contributor to the AARP Bulletin.