This week on the podcast, we take a look at the challenges facing couples as they navigate decisions about timing their retirement in the time of pandemic. This podcast stems from a column I wrote last month for the New York Times. That story examined how the pandemic is affecting all aspects of retirement timing for older workers – everything from the job losses happening due to the recession to age discrimination issues related to health risks.

Retirement timing is one of the most important factors affecting retirement plans. When you are able to work longer, those additional years of wage income make it easier to delay your Social Security filing, earning delayed filing credits. Working longer also can mean saving more and living off those savings for fewer years. It also could get you more years of employer-subsidized health insurance. (For more on this see my recent guide for subscribers on retirement timing.)

About one-third of baby boomers and Genxers tell pollsters that they plan to work longer because of the economic crisis. But that may be easier said than done. Even before the pandemic, about half of all workers who retired between age 55 and 64 did so involuntarily because of ill health, family responsibilities or job loss.

And the pandemic is going to make things much tougher. For the first time since World War II, the rate of unemployment and underemployment has been running higher for workers over age 65 than it for other adults. There’s also mounting evidence of a large spike in people taking early retirement, as I note in the Times story.

The virus creates a sort of double jeopardy for older workers – if they go back to work, they face a risk of serious illness. If they stay home, they stand to lose income and may be forced to file for Social Security earlier than planned. That will have lifetime financial consequences.

One of the topics I covered in the column is how couples are approaching these complicated questions. A decision to return to the workplace may not only create infection risk for that person but put a spouse at risk as well. I wanted to pursue that further on the podcast this week.

Joining me are two guests:

  • Katherine Carman is a senior economist at the RAND Corporation. Currently she is studying health insurance decisions and retirement decisions. And she is the co-author of a Rand study (pre-pandemic) on retirement patterns among couples. The research found a fluid pattern of decision making, often involving phased retirement, short-term jobs, and periods of non-employment and returns to work. She found that for most couples, there is a “discordant” phase, when one spouse works longer than the other.
  • Dorian Mintzer is an experienced therapist; retirement transition, money, relationship, and executive coach; consultant; speaker; and writer. She hosts the monthly Revolutionize your Retirement Interview with Experts series; she also is co-author of the award winning book The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle: 10 Must-Have Conversations For Creating An Amazing New Life Together. And at age 74, Dori finds herself at a personal crossroads and she and her husband try to sort out their own retirement timing issues.

Click here to listen to the podcast.