Should Couples Retire Together?

What to consider when deciding who will retire when

By Matt Smith


If you’re nearing retirement age, then you’re surely wondering…when? There are many reasons to consider an earlier or later retirement date, and the question of when becomes all the more complicated if your partner is considering retirement, as well.

While it may seem sensible for the two of you to retire at the same time, Statistics Canada’s figures show that that’s not the norm. In fact, only about a third of Canadian couples are synchronizing their retirement dates these days.

The problem of who retires when is a relatively new one: baby boomers are the first generation for whom it’s commonplace for both partners in a relationship to have careers of their own. But a couple may not be able to afford to both retire, and early retirement for one can mean financial pressures that the partner who is still working might resent.

When to retire isn’t necessarily a financial decision, however. The Montreal-based research group CIRANO reports that the majority of retirees surveyed over the last two decades cited medical concerns as the deciding factor in setting their dates. In these cases of unplanned early retirement, the other partner may find it necessary to continue working longer than intended in order to provide financial support and health benefits.

While there are definite financial benefits to staggering your retirement dates, it’s important to consider how this might affect your relationship. Mismatched timelines can put stress on a relationship and make the transition into retirement more difficult for both people. Nobody wants to feel as if he or she is being forced to continue working, and conversely, the retired partner may find it difficult to deal with the lack of companionship that comes with having so much more free time. Indeed, if you or your partner is the type to find a sense of purpose and camaraderie in a career, then it’s important to have a serious conversation to ensure that both your needs are addressed.

It’s also worth considering the potential financial downsides of staggering your retirement dates. In general, retirement entails a lower cost of living, as work-related expenses such as transportation are no longer a factor. However, couples offsetting their retirement dates may find that this isn’t the case, as one partner will still have these expenses while the other is no longer bringing home a salary.

Regardless of which you path you take, it’s crucial that you and your partner thoroughly discuss the financial and personal ramifications of your chosen retirement dates to ensure a happy, healthy retirement for both of you.

Photo: iStock/monkeybusinessimages.