Shortly after wrapping up my lecture on the future of retirement, a petite older woman approached me. Confidently, she quickly positioned herself between me and other attendees that had follow-up questions. She came close and began speaking to me at a volume that may have been more appropriate several feet away, saying: “I don’t know who he is! He is always there—every day!”
Before I could ask her whom she was describing, I noticed an older man standing slightly to the side, but a little behind her. She continued, picking up her pace, and volume.
“He just doesn’t understand. I have a daily routine!”
The man now seemed to be stepping back — almost shrinking away. She turned to him and rhetorically asked: “Isn’t that true?!”
Not waiting for his response she turned to me, seemingly looking to me to agree, or referee, saying, “My husband! Now that he is retired, he is always looking to me to feed him, entertain him, and keep him busy!”
Not waiting for my reply, she took the old man by the arm and walked toward the exit.
This was not the first time I heard from an older woman, a now common refrain, voiced by many women with retired partners—“I married him for life, but not for lunch.”
People 50 years old and older have the highest divorce rate of all age groups. In fact, according to Pew Research, the Baby Boomer divorce rate, the so-called gray divorce, has doubled since the 1990s.
Social observers have offered many reasons—among them, most often voiced by women, is: “He bores me.” That reason may not be altogether incorrect, just a little incomplete.
What if the cause of many divorces is poor planning? Not retirement planning in the financial sense, but longevity planning. The failure to plan how, as a couple, they will spend nearly a full third of their adult lives together. A far more concentrated time together than all the previous decades they shared.
There is a new retirement math that has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with living well—together. This new math includes numbers you and your partner didn’t imagine, let alone plan on.
Relationships are typically measured in years. We even assign symbolic gifts to achieving years of togetherness: 25 years is a silver anniversary, 50 years is golden, etc. But, in all those early decades—how much time do you really spend together? Between raising children, careers and countless other activities and responsibilities that only grow in number, and intensity, from young adulthood through midlife, a couple may find they spend years living together, but very few hours actually being together.
The New Math Of Retirement Togetherness
How much time do we actually spend with our partners?
There are 168 hours in a week. Assume that about 8 hours each day are spent sleeping, totaling 56 hours a week, leaving 112 waking hours.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average work day is about nine hours, five days a week. For most, that means 45 hours of work away from their partner, leaving 67 hours.
Just getting to work and going home takes time, too. The nation’s average commute time is nearly 30 minutes one way to work, unless you share Boston’s commute with me, then you are sitting nearly idle for an average 49 minutes. Assuming at least an hour per day to travel to and from work, that is an additional five hours from home, leaving 62 waking hours together—assuming that Saturdays and Sundays are days off.
On any given Monday through Friday, however, a couple may spend only a mere six hours truly together. And that is six hours of togetherness counting showers, bio-breaks, meals, children and all the other big and little tasks that make up a day.
Now, let’s consider retirement. A clean break from the workplace. A dividend of 45 waking hours per week are given to you—with interest. Because the end of the daily grind, also ends the daily work commute, another five-plus hours of freedom is gained to spend with your mate.
Suddenly instead of being limited to a just six waking hours per day with your partner, you have scored an additional ten waking hours at home!
Overnight, you went from 6 to 16 hours together! Every day!
Cause for celebration? Perhaps. For many, it is a surprise. Instead of a time to be celebrated, if not fully planned for, it may be a time that brings unanticipated complexity and even conflict between partners.
Many couples cash in their retirement dividend of more time together by making trips dreamed of decades before. Others plan on spending time with friends, family and, grandchildren. However, leisure travel for most is only a week or two a year. Family visits are typically over holidays and long weekends. In sharp contrast, life after full-time work is a daily event that continues for decades.
Retirement planning today focuses primarily on financial security. It is now necessary to develop a longevity plan, that includes money, but also a comprehensive and collaborative discussion that couples must have about what they will do, and how they plan to live together in the many years that is likely to be a full one third of their adult lives.
For now, many may not have a plan, but they are muddling through. Women appear to be taking action to ensure that their later years are filled with activity and income— not just activity planning for their retired mate. The Boston College Center for Retirement Research reports a sharp rise in the average retirement age of women.
Some men are taking a defensive approach. Pete, my Uber driver, keeps busy by staying on the road four to five days a week. With a full head of white hair, dressed in khakis, polo shirt, and sweater, Pete looks more like someone on his way to a member meeting of a high-end golf club, than someone who has found navigating traffic for seven to eight hours a day a side hobby.
I ask him why does he work so many days in retirement? As he puts it, “Retirement has been a great change after years at a desk. I am outside, and I get to meet and talk with interesting people.”
Looking at me in the rearview mirror, he adds, with a big smile: “There’s another reason too. Driving gets me out of the house before the wife kills me.”
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I lead the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab (agelab.mit.edu). Researcher, teacher, speaker and advisor – my work explores how global demographics, technology and changing generational attitudes are transforming business and society. I teach in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies & Planning and the Sloan School’s Advanced Management Program. My new book is The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World’s Fastest Growing, Most Misunderstood Market (Public Affairs, 2017) . Follow me on Twitter @josephcoughlin.