Most would agree that the type of job you hold determines how you feel about working. Some jobs just offer more and better benefits. The tasks associated with prestigious and professional occupations make them more ego-gratifying and intellectually stimulating, not to mention better paying. These jobs contribute greatly to one’s emotional well-being because they’re personally fulfilling. As a result of all this good stuff, professionals rely more heavily on their jobs for defining themselves. In fact, the bond between job and self can be so intertwined that their professional and personal lives are often blended together.
From this perspective, it stands to reason that those holding such jobs would be less enthusiastic about leaving them, and would have a harder time adjusting to retirement.
But that’s not the case — they actually adjust better. Their success might have something to do with the skills they use in their occupations. Professionals are often called upon to come up with creative solutions to problems, must have the flexibility to function in a constantly fluctuating environment, and must be able to act and think on their own. These are the same skills that are needed to adapt to a change in one’s lifestyle. Furthermore, because their occupations help to build their self-confidence, they have a sense that they can succeed in any situation and environment, and that includes whatever’s thrown at them in retirement.
Unfortunately, the opposite dynamics are in place for blue-collar workers and those in unskilled jobs. These individuals are more apt to look forward to retirement and actually hope to retire early as a break from heavy, repetitive, and tedious work. Additionally, blue collar jobs may not be as personally rewarding because they’re more structured and allow for less autonomy and creative expression. And while they are just as likely to be devoted employees, these individuals are less prone to define themselves by what they do, and instead may have stronger connections to non-work roles. This combination of lower satisfaction and reduced emotional investment suggests blue collar workers would adjust well to the more relaxing lifestyle of retirement.
But again, not typically the case. While they might start off that way, the joy just doesn’t last very long. Many blue-collar workers quickly become less satisfied with retirement, feeling their days are routine and dull, with little of interest to occupy their time. Their day-to-day work experiences are less likely to have required flexibility, creative problem solving, and autonomous decision making, and so they have had less opportunities to fine-tune the coping skills they need for dealing with dramatic lifestyle changes. After years of working in highly structured environments with a lot of repetition and routine, their move into an unstructured lifestyle may be more challenging than for someone who has had to go with the flow throughout their careers.
Now, there is another element that distinguishes white- and blue-collar workers — money. White collar/professionals generally have the advantage here, and certainly money can improve one’s quality of retirement. You have more freedom to pursue interests and participate in a variety of activities without having to worry about day to day expenses, and so your life should be more satisfying.
On the face of it, that seems true enough, and certainly the importance of money cannot be dismissed. But it’s also important to recognize that money on its own isn’t enough. It is not the case that all rich people are happy in retirement. You have to feel like your life has meaning and value day to day, and cash won’t give you that.