Retirement: Prospective and retrospective perceptions of university professors and their spouses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling and Human Services


Richard E. Pearson


Professors' spouses, Life transition, Retirement

Subject Categories



Retirement has potential for disrupting one's sense of self by altering human relationships, scheduling of work and leisure, and by reducing opportunities for the stimulation and satisfaction of intellectual activity.

Unique and unpredictable effects of aging complicate retirement process, further affecting how persons view themselves in their world.

Timing of retirement is a complex of personal and external factors. Physical, financial, and motivational elements require integration with such external factors as job conditions, peer relationships, and familial needs.

In an effort to understand the complexities of retirement preparation and response, the investigator interviewed eight marital pairs individually and as couples five years before the common retirement age of 65, and individually nine years after the first interviews.

The University Personnel Department solicited participants who met the criteria of age and marital status for the initial interviews. Eight couples replied. Nine years later they agreed to be reinterviewed.

The study examined the quality of the retirement transition achieved by the academic couples: how they devised a satisfactory retirement and prepared for it; what internal supports helped them face changes ahead; how they dealt with gradual change and hurtful disruptions; how social and institutional connections contributed; how they viewed themselves and their retirement transition.

Interview data and field notes were analyzed by topic, then combed for commonalities of process and attitudinal/behavioral themes.

The major findings of the study: (1) Personal continuity in the retirement transition was achieved by an inner-directed process of expecting, planning, accepting, and engaging. (2) The process was bolstered by the themes of responsibility, respect and caring for others, mental activity, and persistence. (3) Change and disruption were managed through natural therapeutic strategies of emotional venting, rational assessment, decision making, acceptance of the unchangeable, and engaging resources. (4) Mutual supports between retiree and spouse, family, friends, and institutions benefitted all parties and smoothed the passage to satisfying postretirement living.


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