Five Emotional Stages of Retirement
Retirement is a major life transition, eliciting excitement in some and trepidation in others. Either way, it’s a big change, and any change, positive or negative, can be a source of stress (Holmes and Rahe 1967). A certain amount of stress is healthy and necessary for growth. Knowing the various stages of retirement and their challenges enables you to better understand and respond to the different responses your clients likely will have to this transition.
Ameriprise Financial (2006) enlisted the help of Ken Dychtwald, PhD, an authority on baby boomers and retirement, to survey 2,000 people between the ages of 40 and 75. They discovered five emotional stages of retirement:
|Phase||Timing||Focus of Phase|
|1. Imagination||6–15 years preretirement||Retirement planning|
|2. Anticipation||Up to 5 years preretirement||Excitement about retirement; last-minute anxieties and doubts|
|3. Liberation||Retirement day and 1 year postretirement||Honeymoon phase|
|4. Reorientation||2–15 years postretirement||Readjust priorities, activities, relationships|
|5. Reconciliation||16+ years postretirement||Relative contentment, hopefulness, and acceptance|
Source: Ameriprise Financial (2006). The New Retirement Mindscape.
Phase 1: Imagination
(6–15 years before retirement; initial focus on retirement planning)
People in this phase begin to think and fantasize about retirement, possibly looking for a place to retire to or envisioning their lifestyle during the post–work years. The majority of people in the imagination phase has high expectations of adventure (68 percent) and empowerment (53 percent) and is in the process of saving money for this future lifestyle (72 percent) (Ameriprise Financial 2006).
Phase 2: Anticipation
(up to five years before retirement)
Generally, this phase occurs prior to retiring, and this is when most individuals (80 percent) reported thinking that retirement would be a fantastic time in their life. Three-fourths of the respondents were putting money away for retirement and believed they had figured out how much they would need during retirement. Sixty-seven percent were able to envision periods of work alternating with periods of leisure time.
This is a good time for you to encourage your clients to begin exploring their retirement interests—you might ask them if they have considered taking classes, brushing up on their skills, or trying out new hobbies. Concerns about health and health care costs increase during this phase with the worry about future health.
Those for whom work has been a primary focus may have some concerns about their identity after they retire. “Who will I be if I am not a teacher, a plumber, etc.?” The Ameriprise study (2006) found that 22 percent of respondents anticipated having feelings of loss after retirement, and 18 percent expected to feel “emptiness.” These individuals’ identity and self-esteem often are tied to their work life, job title, and earning capacity.
Phase 3: Liberation
(retirement day and the year following)
Slightly more than three-quarters of the respondents to the Ameriprise survey (2006) were greatly enjoying their retirement, with the majority feeling they had enough to keep them busy and were financially on track for what they anticipated. During this phase is when people who have decided to relocate may do so. The euphoria associated with this phase may last only about a year.
Phase 4: Reorientation
(2–15 years after retirement)
At the beginning of retirement, many people are very happy not to have to set an alarm clock, commute to work, or wear formal work clothing. After a year or so, some wake up and say, “Now what?”
In this phase, the initial enthusiasm and optimism about retirement wane, leaving retirees with a sense of dejection or purposelessness. In fact, the percentage of people who reported enjoying retirement in this phase dropped from 80 percent to 65 percent (Ameriprise Financial 2006). These feelings can stem from the loss of income or simply not knowing what to do with one’s time.
Phase 5: Reconciliation
(16+ years after retirement)
During this time people are generally content, hopeful, and accepting of being retired.
In addition to these five emotional stages of retirement, there are other ways to organize and describe people’s experiences in retirement. What many retirement models have in common – and what professionals should remember – is that whatever path people find themselves on, it isn’t necessarily the path they will stay on. People are individuals and continue to evolve, change and grow throughout their lives.
“The New Retirement Mindscape,” Ameriprise Financial (2006).
Atchley, Robert C. Continuity and Adaptation in Aging: Creating Positive Experiences. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.
Atchley, Robert C., and Amanda Smith Barusch. Social Forces and Aging: An Introduction to Social Gerontology. New York: Wadsworth Publishing, 2004.
Dychtwald, Kenneth, and Daniel J. Kadlec. With Purpose: Going from Success to Significance in Work and Life. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.
Holmes, T., and Rahe, R. (1967). The social readjustment rating scale. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11(2), 213–218.
Miller, Thomas W. Handbook of Stressful Transitions across the Lifespan. New York: Springer, 2009.
Society of Certified Senior Advisors, Working with Older Adults: A Professional’s Guide to Contemporary Issues of Aging (2015).
The Working with Older Adults course offered by the Society of Certified Senior Advisors gives professionals a practical, comprehensive understanding of health, social and financial issues that are important to many older adults, including ethical issues specific to aging. For more information, or to enroll in a class, click here.