The Life Course Perspective also considers the transition to retirement within the framework of what social scientists call ongoing trajectories. Trajectories are the paths that one’s life has taken or is expected to take in the future. People’s lives generally have a number of trajectories going on simultaneously — e.g., being a parent and maintaining a career. Each trajectory has its own set of responsibilities, rules, and patterns which guide our behavior. And as individual paths they provide structure, direction, and purpose to our lives, very much as continuity and roles.
The Life Course Perspective has meaningful implications for the retirement decision. It presumes that individuals will take into consideration all the various aspects of their lives as they decide whether and when to stop working. They might consider whether or not their children are living at home, whether or not a working spouse is planning to retire at the same time, whether or not they have specific other plans, and so on.
So, how well and quickly a person adjusts to retirement depends upon all the factors of that person’s life. These can include retirees’ ability to cope with change, feelings about their job and career, involvement with other non-work roles and trajectories, the quality of their health and finances, future plans, and the quality and importance of relationships with other people, such as friends and family members.
The Life Course Perspective suggests that individuals will develop a comfort level in retirement over time, and will eventually come to enjoy this phase of their lives. There may be some dissatisfaction in the initial transition stage, possibly due to unrealistic expectations or worries about having sufficient resources (economic or otherwise). But as retirees redefine and re-focus their lives –that is, get going on other trajectories — and come to grips with their resource strengths and limitations, their emotional state is expected to improve.
Retirement is considered to be a disruption of an ongoing trajectory – your career. In the event that such a disruption is expected and planned for, then retirees have the opportunity to immerse themselves in other ongoing trajectories or develop new paths to follow. In such situations leaving the workforce is more of a voluntary termination then a disruption of a trajectory.
However, those forced into retirement or retiring too early can face difficulties. The career trajectory, which guided their day to day patterns, has been abruptly and involuntarily removed. While they may have other trajectories they can pursue, the fact the their new path is unplanned may make it hard to see them as adequate replacements. If other trajectories were regarded as valuable, these retirees might well have already retired, provided their finances suggested that possibility. Or at the minimum they would have an easier time making the transition even if forced to retire.
As with Continuity and Role theories, the Life Course Perspective suggests the same up-then-down-then-up-again emotional roller coaster. All three assume initial satisfaction with retirement because we gain a sense of freedom and loss of stress. Within the framework of the Life Course Perspective, our decline results from having been removed from a structured environment. But ultimately there is recovery as the retiree moves further and further from his career, and establishes a new life and new pathways.
All three frameworks share another aspect as well: the length of the adjustment process, the steps involved, and the degree of comfort one feels while moving through the transition, all depend on the myriad of things that make up your life. And further confounding the situation are expectations regarding what retirement is like and how one’s life will play out in the absence of something as all-absorbing as work.