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The Feminine Experience of Retirement: What’s Your Stand?

By Stephanie Cunningham March 02, 2023 Lifestyle

Female baby boomers are the first generation to retire who are well-educated, healthy, energetic, and with well-paid careers. Consequently, many agree that the boomers’ retirement will be different from the retirement of previous generations.

Changes Brewing for Baby Boomers

The current stereotype of grandma baking cookies for lots of grandchildren is becoming less realistic. The traditional mindset about the needs and activities of mature adult females may no longer be valid.

As Lim S.G. notes in “Rethinking ambition: Women on the edge of retiring,” an essay in Women Confronting Retirement: A Nontraditional Guide, compiled and edited by N. Bauer-Maglin A. Radosh, for professional women especially:

“…moving from regulated work to free work, ambition need not take a back seat but instead finally moves into the forefront, where it will prompt us to ask not what the institution wants but what we want out of our lives and the work we can and wish to do” (p. 124).

Retirement is the time for both sexes to find fulfilling activities. But barriers and stereotypes remain for older women. They have been carers of the family. Society and culture expects them to continue or expand that role in retirement.

The Designated Caregiver

Retired women are often the designated caregiver for two sets of individuals: grandchildren and parents/children/spouse with health or aging issues. Caring has been an integral part of the female life span.

While men’s life span often follows this path: birth, education, career, retirement, and death, women’s life span is more likely to be: birth, education, first career steps, caring, next career steps and caring, retirement and caring, death.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that women may feel they have little choice and may become trapped in that caring role. Caring may take over their retirement and stop them from finding fulfilling activities.

Although it is difficult to say no to a request to care for someone who needs it, it is a viable answer. I babysat my school age grandchildren for a few years once a week after school. They have grown beyond that, and I do miss seeing them weekly.

I was a small part of their life and knew what was happening, but it was not an overwhelming responsibility. If I was travelling, I would give plenty of notice and their parents would make other arrangements.

On Your Own Terms

It is important to recognise that caring can be a positive benefit to the carer, but it must be on one’s own terms.

I know someone whose child asked her to care for her grandchildren for two weeks. She thought about it and said no, she wasn’t interested in caring for toddlers for that length of time. She did not feel comfortable caring for children that young given their needs.

Women, whether married or single, should plan for their own retirement needs, besides planning for finance and health care needs. Women should explore how to achieve emotional/social wellbeing in retirement. Some elements could be:

  • researching to find their unique passion and purpose,
  • considering what legacy they want to leave behind,
  • what communities they would like to serve,
  • and what are their boundaries about caring.

Baby boomers have different expectations for retirement. They will challenge the expectations of retirement as they have other phases of their lives. Female baby boomers are equal to this challenge, but also need to decide if, how, and when they are available for caring for others.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What do you expect from retirement? If you have already retired, how’s it working out for you? Is it anything you thought it would be? How do you think you can change your retirement years into something more exciting and empowering? Do you want to? Please share your thoughts below to the benefit of the community.

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Amy Brucksch

Excellent article. I’ve ordered the book mentioned as it sounds interesting. I’m considering a partial or complete retirement from teaching full time either this year or next so different perspectives are invaluable right now.

Beverley Jones

I enjoyed this article and the comments from different p.o.v. I find myself in a caring situation after raising two children as a single mother. I’ve just accepted it but I have learnt to say no to minding grandchildren when it doesn’t fit with my life. I have one daughter without children who receives a range of pity type comments and apologies which are not only hurtful but bordering on rude and insensitive. Often the first question she is asked in a new situation is how many children do you have? Replies range from oh I’m so sorry to hear that to the assumption that she is “childless by choice” (one of those new fangled handles for women).


I don’t want to be a caregiver! Although I am married, I never had children and honestly, I never wanted them.( I did not feel I wanted that responsibility — my own childhood was very traumatic and I didn’t want to pass that on to kids). Now, my husband is not in good health (I am in perfect health) and I’m not looking forward to his health declining and having to “take care of him. Why? Because he doesn’t take care of himself!!!!


Rebecca, I love your confident admission to such a taboo situation. I too am childless and often times have been looked at with sad faces or words of pity when I said I don’t have kids. I took care of my parents since I was a child. I too didn’t want to pass on my lack of tools to offspring and my husband didn’t either. Life solely as a couple wasn’t always a walk in the park, but I am always grateful I don’t have the ball and chain of kids/grandkids. To those passing judgment, please think twice. Our choice was selfless, not selfish. I can bet in this economic, environmental and societal (that includes political) climate you may even envy us. The most indebted age group today are grandparents who had to remortgage their homes to pay off their kid’s/grandkids’ debt or deal with mental/drug related services for them. I’m sincerely sorry for those of you in that spot. But I am proud like you Rebecca that not only have we dodged bullets, because we had the where-with-all to know thy self early in life, but we also have not taxed the infrastructure systems where we live in the way families with children do. I often point out to people that we should receive a tax break, even if only worth a couple of hundred dollars for the thousands we pay over our lifetime. Don’t get me wrong, I will pay my taxes to keep infrastructure and services funded and to help kids grow into good citizens, but we as childless families need to be recognized, not pitied or considered flawed for choosing not to contribute to a society’s problems especially in our retirement. I am relieved I’ve done my caring before I retired, for my parents and my husband, who also chose to not take care of himself. We much taunted Boomers have sacrificed our well being while caring for our loved ones and it seems due to our strong work ethic and planning skills. I have prepared so that my siblings won’t be burdened financially for my care. I will leave this world at peace with my choices. Thanks Rebecca for your bravery. Please continue with knowing what you cannot do, that’s your power. I hope you seek solutions to finding a way to go forward caring for yourself.


Can we retire the term retire? Seems so outdated.


We are so aligned. Another way to say this is for women to get in touch with their inner wisdom enough to know what wants to flourish within them now. It isn’t allowing and an unfolding rather than a goal or a search. Just that approach is very unlike what we have to do in the work world. Working with someone in Australia right now! She is fabulous. Keep spreading the message.

The Author

After taking early retirement as a policy officer, Stephanie Cunningham moved to Australia and earned general and specialized certifications to teach senior yoga. She taught classes for 10 years, then started a podcast about changing the perception of yoga.

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