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When Your Spouse Retires ... And You Don’t

What changes when one of you drops out? A lot

A new social dynamic is emerging between husbands and wives approaching retirement in America. With nearly 55 percent of all married couples having two incomes, a growing number of spouses are retiring at different times. This often raises thorny issues of income loss and mismatched outlooks on life.

Though the Falveys embarked on this existence by choice, the recent downsizings have forced it on many couples, with serious ramifications.

“A lot of companies make the assumption that because of somebody’s age … they are prepared to retire, so you might as well cut them loose,” said Pam Schaffer, 52, of Columbus, Ohio, whose husband, John, 64, lost his position as vice president at a major publisher a year ago.

out of sync

— Nathaniel Welch/Redux

He has COBRA health coverage, but it runs out in April, four months before he gets Medicare. Pam’s computer consulting job offers no health insurance, a challenge the couple will have to face.

But long before the recession, retirement patterns were changing. Formerly, “women would follow their husbands out of the labor market,” says Richard Johnson, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “Now as women’s employment is becoming more important, they’re more likely to keep working even after their husbands retire.”

A 2004 study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found that fewer than one in five couples retired in the same year. Generally the husband stopped working first.

How did Jerry Brennan get it right?>>

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