Women tend to stress out more than men when it comes to retirement, but they also report more positive experiences in retirement, such as enjoying new opportunities, spending time with friends and family and deciding what they want to do next.

“We know that women often experience high levels of stress before retirement as they juggle both professional and family responsibilities,” says Elaine Sarsynski, executive vice president of MassMutual Retirement Services. “We are learning that the stress women feel often carries over into retirement. But we’re also hearing that women often make more of their retirement opportunities and experiences than men.”

Also see: Female-focused benefits education can transform women’s health, retirement outcomes

In its study, Men, Women & Retirement, MassMutual found that women are more stressed than men before and after retirement, succumbing to frustration, sadness, nervousness or loneliness. It also found the women who haven’t retired yet have higher expectations for life in retirement than men.

Before retirement, women are much more likely than men to report being stressed, MassMutual found. Forty-nine percent of women pre-retirees in the study said they are at least moderately stressed compared to 38% of men pre-retirees.

The majority of both men and women report that they are extremely or quite a bit relaxed and happy in retirement, but the study did not find a correlation between emotional well-being and the respondents’ level of retirement assets.

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Workers who have access to a defined contribution plan at work are more likely to experience positive emotions than those who don’t have a DC plan, the report said.  Seventy-four percent of DC plan participants said they were “extremely” or “quite a bit” happy compared to 68% who did not participate in a DC plan; 70% of DC plan participants said they were “extremely” or “quite a bit” relaxed compared to 61% who did not have a plan.

“Overall, positive emotions for both men and women tend to increase and negative emotions tend to decrease in retirement,” says Mathew Greenwald, president of Greenwald & Associates. “Expectations for retirement also tend to be exaggerated for many people, especially women, partly because it’s difficult for many people to envision what life in retirement will actually be like.”

Overall, women pre-retirees had high expectations of their retirement, including enjoying themselves, having more free time, having new experiences, having time for friends, opening up more opportunities, reinventing themselves, having friends and family to depend on and feeling anxious about financial security. The only area where men pre-retirees had higher expectations was in feeling financially secure.

Sixty-five percent of men pre-retirees expected to be financially secure in retirement compared with 60% of women pre-retirees.

Also see: Women and retirement: Best practices for plan sponsors

Sarsynski recommends that pre-retirees take steps to help them gain a more concrete understanding of what their lives may be like once they retire. It’s helpful for pre-retirees to connect more often with retirees as well as actually practice being retired, she says.

“Spend time with retirees to gain insights into what the Japanese call their ‘second life’ to help better prepare both financially and emotionally for retirement,” Sarsynski says. “We also suggest that pre-retirees track all of their purchases, especially when on vacation or participating in activities they enjoy. That will help them better understand how costly and therefore how feasible the lifestyle they envision actually will be.”

Paula Aven Gladych is a freelance writer based in Denver.

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