March 4, 2004

Study Examines Same-Sex Retirement Plans

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As the baby boom generation moves closer to retirement, researchers are becoming increasingly concerned with how the aging population is planning for the post-work world. A recent Cornell-sponsored study, led by Steven Mock grad and Cate Taylor grad and supervised by Prof. Ritch Savin-Wiliams, human development, uncovered unique trends in the retirement plans of same-sex couples.

The study analyzed data that was drawn from a 1,914-person Cornell Ecology of Careers study on retirement planning in central New York. Mock and his colleagues conducted in-depth interviews and looked at quantitative information from 27 female and seven male respondents who noted that they were in same-sex relationships.


Mock said that there were two main outcomes of the study. First, gender seems to play a large role in the ways people plan for retirement. Women planned less than men, and lesbians showed a tendency to plan even less than women in heterosexual couples.

“Men tend to be a little more confident and are encouraged to think a little more about financial situations,” Mock said.

Men are “socialized into taking the lead in planning for the future or planning for retirement,” Savin-Williams added.

From a young age, men and women are “socialized into our own sex and sex roles,” and these character traits are then amplified in same-sex couples, Savin-Williams said. The researchers said that men therefore plan independently, even when in relationships. Similarly, feminine traits of interdependence are amplified in lesbian couples, the study found.

Another important finding was that relationship satisfaction correlated directly to retirement planning more in same-sex couples than in heterosexual couples. “Women are socialized to be more relationship-oriented than men,” Taylor said.

Mock said that because there are fewer barriers separating an unsatisfying same-sex relationship, “how happy they are in the present might be the best measure for whether they are going to be remaining in this relationship for the long term.” Because it is legally easier for same-sex couples to split up, gays and lesbians base their future plans on their happiness and potential for long-term success.

Heterosexual couples are recognized by the federal government to be financially interdependent when they are married, Taylor explained. Because same-sex couples do not get that acknowledgment, there are issues of social security inequality, hospital visitation rights and even significantly higher estate taxes for partners. The financial reward differences at retirement “could be hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Taylor said.

Recent same-sex marriages performed on the city and state level, like in San Francisco and Massachusetts, will not affect many of the topics discussed in the study.

“What happens on a state level isn’t going to have an impact on legal recognition,” Mock said.

The results of the study, when viewed in the context of current legislative debates, “just demonstrate to us that regardless of legal recognition, same-sex couples are forging ahead and making plans for their future together [in an] ambivalent policy climate,” Mock said.

“If there was legal recognition, then I think there would be more of a sense of joint planning,” Savin-Williams said.

In the meantime, the authors stressed a need for same-sex couples to educate themselves on retirement planning. “The data themselves raise our awareness that adult and aging same-sex individuals do need to plan for the future,” he said.

The study was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Center for the Study of Working Families and the Cornell Careers Institute. The findings collected by Mock, Taylor and Savin-Williams will be published in Research and Clinical Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Aging, a book due out in 2005.

Archived article by Melissa Korn