The Elder Law Forum

The Elder Law Forum by Professor Michael Myers Editor's Note: The Elder Law Forum is a public service of The University of South Dakota School of Law, an extension of the SENIOR LEGAL HOTLINE available at no cost to persons 60 and older at 605-677-6343 and during regular business hours. The Elder Law Forum delivers information and educational material by radio, a weekly newspaper column, and Law School research papers placed on the USD School of Law Web site. Professor Myers teaches Elder Law at the School of Law.

"Men Aren't What

They Used to Be!"

"Men aren't what they used to be!" a USD Senior Helpline caller asserted. "Most are willing to feed off their wives' income. They are financial cowards!"

She was expressing a complaint seldom heard in the 1950s when men were overwhelmingly the family breadwinner. Men of that generation took great pride in being a "good provider." It was matter of personal responsibility.

A wife was free to pursue a career, to compete in the marketplace; but such a decision was of her own choosing, not a matter of economic necessity. And, according to the mores of that era, a man who used his wife's income to pay for family necessities was not held in particularly high esteem.

All of that has changed. "I am 62, I want to retire, but my husband insists that I work until I'm 66 and eligible for full Social Security retirement," said the caller. "He retired five years ago at 61 and spends most of his time watching television and going to estate sales. When I say I want to quit work he flies into a rage.

"I would like to garden and spend time with my daughters and grandchildren," she said, insisting they could get by comfortably without the income from her job as a records clerk. "Is there a financial advisor or someone out there who can help me prove to him that I'm right?" she asked.

"Unlikely," I responded. "Financial security is not so much a matter of assets and cash flow," I suggested, "but rather a state of mind about the future." Her husband is typical of two men I encountered at a car wash, both in their early to mid-60s.

"Retired, Jack?" I asked of one.

"Yup; gave it up four years ago," he answered.

"What about Rose? Still working?"

"Oh, sure; likes her job," he said.

"What about you Pete?" I asked the other.

"I was laid off three years ago and decided to take retirement," he replied.

"And Margaret?"

"Still plugging away," he said.

They are representative of a statistical trend showing that during the past 15 years retirement age for men has been steadily dropping, while at the same time women are staying on the job longer. In part, this is due to higher disability and death rates by men. Widows often need to work.

But it is no longer unusual for a man to retire and allow his wife to "bring home the bacon." The caller may have a point: "Men aren't what they used to be!"

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