- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Never does Margot Fonoroff feel less charitable toward her husband than at 6 a.m., when she is rolling out of bed as he continues to sleep. After almost 30 years of marriage, the elementary school principal and her recently retired husband, Bruce, have switched roles. Just over a year ago, Mr. Fonoroff, 56, was the associate director of the Army Research Lab in Adelphi, a position that demanded long hours and extensive travel.

For most of those years, Mrs. Fonoroff, 53, was a schoolteacher and librarian whose schedule changed with the seasons but who never awoke before 7 a.m. and always was home by 4:30 p.m. Her recent promotion to principal, coupled with his retirement, not only has changed the morning dynamic, but has drawn the Rockville couple into a growing demographic of American couples for whom retirement triggers a major role reversal.

Now more than ever, wives are staying in the workforce long after their husbands retire. Once a husband´s retirement triggered a couple´s withdrawal from the working world, but new research shows the prevalence of joint retirement of husbands and wives may be declining.

"People still want to retire together," says Melissa Favreault, who with Richard Johnson wrote a paper on the subject for the Urban Institute. "But we´ve seen a decline in that. Women are more attached to their careers now than in the past, and they are more likely to work additional years beyond their husband´s retirement."

The impact of the shift is being felt everywhere, from household schedules, budgets and chores to the policies that have governed distribution of Social Security benefits since the 1930s. Back then, it was established that a single-earner was rewarded for putting off retirement beyond age 65. Few anticipated a day when husbands would wait to leave the workforce until slightly younger wives could retire with benefits and pensions of their own.

Dywane Hall is seeing more couples step into retirement one spouse at a time. The Alexandria-based investment adviser says many female clients view their 50s as a time for their careers to take priority.

"The men usually entered the workforce first," he says. "The women got a later start, and they´re not fully vested because either they´re younger or they took time to stay home with children."

While the arrangement usually guarantees greater long-term financial stability, Mr. Hall says it usually takes the couple some time to adjust to their new roles.

"Typically, I see some discord," says Mr. Hall, who specializes in retirement counseling with Linsco/Private Ledger Financial Services. "It´s a very difficult transition for some. There might be jealousy on the part of the working spouse, inadequacy on the part of the one who´s not working. I see it from a financial standpoint; it´s not easy for just one spouse to have a relaxed life."

That´s one reason why many large companies are expanding the scope of their retirement-planning seminars, says Claire Hushbeck, an economist with AARP.

"People are finally realizing there´s more to the retirement process than getting the ducks in a row financially," Mrs. Hushbeck says. "With two-career couples more the norm now than in the past, it makes retirement decisions all the more complicated."

As the new administration seeks to reform Social Security, policy-makers will be looking more closely at couples such as the Fonoroffs, whose official leave of the working world won´t begin until neither has to wake up at 6 a.m.

"My first year of retirement, I want to be on a golf course, waving to the school buses on the first day of school," says Mrs. Fonoroff, who became principal at Lake Seneca Elementary School in Germantown in 1998.

For the foreseeable future, tee times are relegated to vacations, but planning for retirement started years ago. For the past five years, the two have been shopping for a live-in recreational vehicle in which they have talked about touring the country. They have attended golf school together, met with a financial planner who helped them reassess their life-insurance and long-term care needs and sketched out a grand scheme for the years ahead.

Mrs. Fonoroff wants to take a physics class, reread the classics and volunteer for the Smithsonian and Kennedy Center. Mr. Fonoroff wants to train for a marathon; build a grandfather clock; and learn French, Hebrew and juggling, of all things.

They both have vowed to spend at least one weekday a week together, which for their entire married lives has been impossible.

"Retirement could be difficult for people who don´t like to spend time together, but that´s not going to be a problem," Mrs. Fonoroff says.

Most of the Fonoroffs´ plans have been put on indefinite hold, however, as Mrs. Fonoroff tackles the biggest challenge of her career.

"My colleagues said, 'You´re nuts to do this when Bruce is retiring,´" says Mrs. Fonoroff, who enjoyed teaching, in part because it allowed her time with her daughters, now ages 20 and 24. These days, she leaves early for breakfast meetings and often returns after 9 p.m.

"This is one of the most stressful jobs you can imagine, but I feel like I´m making a difference in the school," she says.

Meanwhile, Mr. Fonoroff does some government consulting and works part time at Wood World, where he indulges in his woodworking hobby.

"I´m sure my blood pressure is down; hers is up," Mr. Fonoroff says.

It doesn´t help that Mr. Fonoroff hasn´t assumed cooking and cleaning duties his wife long covered. Even worse, Mrs. Fonoroff says with a roll of her eyes, he doesn´t make the bed when he wakes up at 8 a.m.

"I didn´t train him very well," she says with an indulgent smile. "He´s got lots of other good qualities."


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