Same-sex couples plan differently for retirement based on their gender

Compared with their husbands, women tend to put less effort into planning for retirement, studies show. But lesbians tend to plan even less than other women, according to one of the first studies to look at the retirement plans of gay and lesbian couples.

A significant factor influencing same-sex couples’ retirement planning is, put simply, satisfaction with their relationship, according to Cornell University experts on gender issues.

“Although the quality of a marriage tends to influence how much a couple plans for retirement, the link between relationship satisfaction and retirement planning is much stronger for same-sex couples. In other words, gay and lesbian adults who are happier with their relationships plan more for retirement,” reports Steven E. Mock, a doctoral student in human development at Cornell.

Mock and his two Cornell colleagues, Catherine J. Taylor, a human development doctoral student, and Ritch Savin-Williams, professor and chair of human development, analyzed data from interviews with 39 women and seven men in same-sex relationships. The couples were among 1,900 in a larger Cornell Ecology of Careers study.

Mock notes that when lesbians make financial plans for retirement, they do it with their partners, unlike gay men who tend to plan individually. “In in-depth interviews, a significant number of the study’s participants mentioned that when they went from being single to partnered, they began to think more about the future. In some cases, their partner knew more about financial planning than they did, and this increased their awareness of retirement planning,” notes Mock.

He will present his findings Feb. 20 at the research and policy forum, Sustainable Careers: New Options for a New Workforce, in New York City. His study also will be published in the book, Research and Clinical Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Aging, due out in 2005. The findings imply, Mock said, that lesbians in general and gay men who are not in relationships appear to be in particular need of planning and should consult with a financial planner or explore their savings options through their workplace. “Also, gay men and lesbians who are in unhappy relationships need to make sure that they are not ignoring their future needs,” Mock warns.

The authors note that because U.S. laws currently do not recognize same-sex marriages, these couples are excluded from many of the financial, health and tax rights that marriage provides.

“Nearly all state and federal legislation assumes gay and lesbian life partners to be individuals and not economically interdependent as married couples are assumed to be,” note the authors. “This lack of recognition of same-sex couples has repercussions in terms of retirement and financial planning.”

Savin-Williams adds that these issues have real-world implications as the courts and legislatures debate if and how best to recognize same-sex couples whom have made a commitment to each other. “It would be a tragedy of immense proportions if same-sex couples who have been together for decades discover at the end of their life that they have few resources to enjoy their retirement and their last years of life,” he notes.

Experts estimate that between 3 to 8 percent of adults are gay or lesbian and that roughly 4 million Americans who will be over the age of 65 by 2030 will be gay or lesbian. “The baby boom generation is the first generation in which same-sex couples are an issue,” Mock says, “and it is also the largest generation ever to retire. Hopefully, its sheer magnitude will make an impact on helping gay men and lesbians plan better for retirement and in modifying laws and policies to better protect same-sex partners.”

The research was funded, in part, by the Cornell Careers Institute.

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