Why Professional Men Over 60 Keep Working
By Richard Eisenberg
Two years ago, Elizabeth Fideler wrote "Women Still at Work: Professionals Over Sixty and On the Job," which was named one of the Top 10 business books of the year by Booklist. I blogged about it for Next Avenue. Now Fideler's back with the sequel: "Men Still at Work: Professionals Over Sixty and On the Job."
For both books, the research fellow at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College surveyed roughly 155 people over 60 working full-time or part-time and followed up with one-on-one interviews with a few dozen of them.
Fideler discovered striking differences - and similarities - between these men and women who continue working.
I spoke with her about the survey findings and the highlights of the interview are below.
But first a caveat: Because she used what's known as the "snowball methodology" for the survey (asking colleagues and friends to complete it or telling them and the women who answered the first book's questionnaire to send it to working professional men over 60), it's not representative of all 60+ American men who are still employed.
"There are a large number of men who are working because they need to. The people I surveyed, by and large, have a choice in the matter and they're very fortunate in that way," said Fideler.
Next Avenue: Why did you decide to write this book?
Fideler: I had such a good response to the first book and at the book party, men came up to me and said: What about us? I took the hint and went from there.
Were there any differences between the demographics of the men and women who filled out the surveys?
The men were, on average, older than the women; I received surveys from men age 60 to 93. The men had worked more years and were making a lot more money than the women, on average.
Men had more doctorates and advanced professional degrees than the women - maybe because they started earlier and had the financial requisites to get the highest degrees they could. It's not because they were smarter.
More of the men are working full time, not part-time - especially those 70 and older.
Why do you think the men who answered the survey were older than the women?
For this survey, I had a greater number of people in their 80s still working. The men tended to come of age in the '60s and '70s when you were supposed to get a job, be a provider and be the head of household.
The women of that time were often told they should keep house, produce the family and take care of the family. So the men got jobs sooner. The women often stayed home with the children and got a later start because there weren't that many job opportunities for women in the professions.
Why do the men you surveyed keep working?
Many of them are not just reluctant to stop, they're fearful about what will happen if they do. They wonder: 'What will I do? Who will I be if I don't have my work?'
What was your main takeaway from the new book?
Job satisfaction and finding meaning in their work is the Number One reason the men stay in the workforce, not money. Using their skills, abilities and training was also very important. That's not to say that they don't depend on the money or that money isn't important to them.
What does "finding meaning" mean for the men?
For a CEO of a company, there's pride in growing your business.
For the people doing social service work, there's satisfaction that you're helping less fortunate people.
Two of the people profiled in the book, Allan Shedlin and Neil Tift, are doing work in the father-involvement field. Allan's business, in Maryland, is REEL FATHERS; he and his colleagues use film to show men how to be nurturing fathers, typically men who lost custody of their children but who want to be in their lives. Neal is the Father Involvement Program Director at the Child Crisis Center in Mesa, Arizona; a lot of his clients are Native Americans.
They are not top-salaried people, but they're getting a lot of job satisfaction out of the work they do. Allan is also working a second job as crew member at Trader Joe's to supplement his income.
Did the women you surveyed also put a high priority on job satisfaction and meaning in their work?
Yes. And both men and women said that making a difference was high up on their lists.
Was there a difference between how men defined job satisfaction and meaningful work at this age and how women did?
That's interesting. Women mentioned colleagues and friends as part of their definition of satisfaction more than men did.
What was the big difference between the men who are still at work after 60 and the women?
The big gender difference was when I asked about the finance-related reasons for working late in life. The women rated all of these to be more important than men. Anything that had to do with savings, investments and earnings was of greater concern for women than men.
Why do you think they did?
It suggests to me that women are in tougher shape financially than men.
Women get less from Social Security than men, in general, because they've worked fewer years and earned lower amounts of money - all of those things that Social Security is based on.
Recent research from USC and Rand found that highly-active and engaged workers were more likely to continue working rather than passive and reserved workers. Did you see this in your survey, too?
Virtually every one of the people I interviewed sang that song.
If you hate your boss and don't like your colleagues and you're stressed all the time, you might look for any way to retire as early as possible. But the people I surveyed and interviewed were mostly positive about their work.
To them, successful aging includes work. They find work meaningful and rewarding - and not just financially rewarding.
Had the men you surveyed switched fields? Or were they doing the same type of work they always have?
There were a fair number of career-changers. For example, Jim Fannin Jr. had been a top executive in hospital administration for many years and left that field to go into historic preservation. His wife's firm does that and he works with her and for her.
A number of lawyers told me they were either stepping back in their private practice or leaving it entirely to teach law.
Others are now doing consulting work in same field they'd been in, but they are doing this to change the pace of what they do.
Your survey found that 35 percent of the men had stress or fatigue but 44 percent of the women said that they did. What do you make of that?
I can only speculate that women were more willing to admit to it. Men also have secretaries and wives to do a lot of things for them, as a broad generalization.
Were these men currently mentoring younger people and did that bring the older workers satisfaction?
Yes. A number of the men said that mentoring was one of the greatest rewards of continuing working - that they are able to help bring along the early careerists. They want to give something back and feel they can do this by helping guide younger people.
What advice would you offer men in their 50s and 60s who are thinking about continuing to work?
I'd say: Try to work at something you truly enjoy and with people you respect and who respect you.