For people who decide to retire in Southwest Florida, real estate professionals are often the first point of contact. This puts them in a superb position to spot new demographic trends.
Barbara Ackerman, who has been closing high-end residential deals in Sarasota for more than three decades, definitely sees the generation of baby boomer women now hitting retirement age as a departure from business as usual.
“I’m working with women who do not want to go into retirement, so to speak, but want to have a very active lifestyle that doesn’t include golf and tennis,” Ackerman says. “They’re not moving down with the resort-style mindset; they’re somewhat on the same level of mental activity that they had up north. They start exploring other avenues which were in the back of their mind – things they would have liked to do, but couldn’t because of the careers they had somewhere else.”
Kim Ogilvie, in her 35th year as a Sarasota real estate broker, says her female clients are staying in the workforce longer than in the past. And many are downsizing, passing up large waterfront properties for downtown condominiums: “They don’t want to cook, and they don’t want to worry about whether their lawn service will show up.”
While Ogilvie has noticed an uptick in single boomer women seeking homes, Ackerman says she mostly deals with two-income couples.
“But I think the women stand out much more,” she observes. “Retirement used to be male-driven; the man was deciding it’s time to move and how much he wanted to spend. Now, not so. Women are speaking up and determining what the story is. Financially, they have contributed to that retirement fund and their voice is heard. And I love it.”
Ackerman believes that high-earning couples are a primary factor driving Sarasota’s feverish housing market, and the national numbers back her up: In the two decades between 1997 and 2017, the median income for a married couple between 55 and 64 years old skyrocketed by 60.6 percent – with an increase in that second income accounting for most of the difference.
There can be no doubt that boomer retirement – representing a generation of American women who entered the workforce at unprecedented rates – means more money flowing into Sarasota and Manatee counties, and not just among the power couples who flock to waterfront homes and high-rise condos. Social Security benefits – for years a boon to this region as a return on salaries earned elsewhere – are rising for women on a national and local level, reflecting a stubbornly slow narrowing of the gender gap in pay.
In 1999, American women 65 and older received an average Social Security monthly payment of $687.84, compared to $906.48 for men in that age group – a 32 percent gap. By 2017, the difference narrowed to 28 percent, with a $1,228.67 monthly benefit for women and $1,574.86 for men.
In Southwest Florida, the gaps are slightly wider but the incomes are higher. Sarasota County women 65 and older received $711.68 in 1999, 34 percent less than men’s benefit of $956.22. The 2017 gap was 29 percent: $1,317.58 for women and $1,695.32 for men. The Manatee County numbers: $697.03 for women and $930.58 for men in 1999, a 33 percent gap; and in 2017, $1,301.81 for women and $1,679.68 for men, also a 29 percent gap.
One interesting Social Security trend is a marked decline in the share of Americans 65 and older who are taking their benefits. In 2005, before the Great Recession, 97.4 percent of them received monthly payments; last year this had dropped to 89 percent. During the 1990s and early 21st century, retirement at a young age and claiming Social Security at 62 was an unquestioned strategy. Now, more retirees understand that delaying benefits as long they can – up until age 70 – carries a notable financial advantage and helps guard against outliving one’s assets, with much higher monthly benefits in the later years.
In tandem with this shift, baby boomers are working longer. That’s both because they can – they are healthy and engaged enough – and because, to some extent, they must. More women in this generation are single, with lifetime earnings that still average less than a man’s. And that 60.6 percent boost in older married couples’ incomes since 1997? It affords them only a slightly better lifestyle than their parents enjoyed, due to rises in the cost of living.
Denise Largent Roberts, 67 and “about 75 percent retired,” moved to Sarasota in 1994 with a background in education support. She started her own consulting firm in 2012, working with nonprofit clients in human services, education and the arts.
“My mother didn’t work outside the home until she took a part-time job as a personal shopper when she was in her 60s,” Roberts says. “I have worked for most of my adult life. My mother and father both retired to Sarasota at age 70. They had a comfortable income from my father’s Social Security and pension. Hard to do that these days.”
As boomers age, their numbers are ebbing, and next year they are expected to equal their children’s generation, the millennials, at 73 million apiece. But with much larger disposable incomes, they will continue to have an outsized economic impact, especially in retirement communities.
In the last decade, the share of Americans 65 and over who work has risen by 63 percent, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Retirement Initiatives. Between 2003 and 2013, labor force participation rates for Americans 55 and older rose by 23.3 percent for men and 54 percent for women. The center predicts that from 2016 to 2026, as the total U.S. workforce grows by 6.6 percent, the rise among workers 65 to 74 years old will be 50.3 percent. The number of workers 75 and older should rise by 91.5 percent.
Again, demographers agree that working women will provide a major impetus for the change, both by remaining in their jobs and by convincing spouses to delay retirement. But this is a story still unfolding, and boomers have defied predictions in the past. Already, members of this generation have left the workforce for personal, health-related or financial reasons after telling researchers that they planned to stay on the job.
“The increased employment of women in their older years appears to be a continuing trend, but only time will tell,” economists Claudia Goldin and Joshua Mitchell wrote in a paper, “The New Life Cycle of Women’s Employment,” for the Winter 2017 Journal of Economic Perspectives. “Cohorts entering their older years have more work experience, often have satisfying careers rather than just jobs, have invested more in their vocations, have more of their identity bound up in their work, and have more steeply sloped earnings trajectories. It is no wonder that employment has greatly increased at older ages, and these underlying dynamics give reason to believe that it will continue to do so.”
On a local level, the economic realities of boomer retirement already point to an overall gain for the community. But wealth disparities within this generation, especially for women, may reveal themselves in time as even more stark than the inequalities that exist in the community as a whole.
“I worry about the divide between the women who succeeded financially and those who have not,” says Laura Breeze, who came to Sarasota as a New College student and now works in gift planning for the local American Red Cross chapter. “I meet folks on both sides, every day. I visit those who’ve run and sold companies, or climbed high up corporate ladders, or rose to fine public leadership roles with nice pensions. I also meet academics who never broke the glass ceiling to tenure track, living in rusty trailers; professionals let go in their 50s with no hope of making what they once did; and many, many, many regular, hard-working folks without much in savings, squeezed between parents and kids with even fewer resources.”
One indicator of potential financial instability as these boomers age in Southwest Florida is a dramatic expansion in the number of women living alone. While “gray divorce” is a trend that affects both men and women, fewer divorced or separated men between 60 and 74 appear to be choosing Southwest Florida as home. In 2016, there were only 8,621 formerly married men compared to 11,785 women in Sarasota County. In Manatee, the ratio was 6,137 to 8,316.
One way to picture this difference is to imagine yourself sitting beside a slightly lopsided party of eight baby boomers at your favorite restaurant. Overall in the two counties in 2016, there were 22,258 single men for 37,172 single women between 60 and 74 years old – three men for every five women.
From 2009 to 2016 in Sarasota County, while the population of women aged 60 to 74 climbed by 33 percent, the number of them who were married rose by only 26 percent. The dramatic growth was in the number of women who were divorced or separated – a 70.4 percent increase. In Manatee County the difference was less dramatic but still substantial: With its 39 percent rise in the number of boomer women, the number who were married climbed by 34 percent while the number divorced or separated was up by 57 percent.
For Su Byron of Sarasota, who runs her own communications firm, the freedoms of a single life allowed her to have the kind of youthful adventures other boomers might envy: 10 years in New York City and Paris, “trying to be a poet/writer,” cooking and tutoring to pay the bills. Shortly after returning to Sarasota in the late 1980s, she and a partner launched a local cultural monthly, “Sarasota Arts & Entertainment” – a labor of love on an unforgiving budget.
“We launched it in 1990 and it lasted for 10 years,” she says. “We loved every minute of it. But, in 2000, with many new monthly publications crowding the market, we sadly shut it down and I started a new chapter in PR and marketing. I seem to reinvent myself every 10 years. Not sure what’s next!”
Now Byron advises young people she knows to explore the world while they can – “I tell them, go now; experience it now.” But she knows that being a free spirit carries its own costs, and a recent visit to a financial expert confirmed this.
“After reviewing the numbers – there are not many – she looked at me and basically told me I’d need to work for rest of my life,” Byron says. “Which means I’m working 60-plus hours a week because I know I won’t be able to keep this pace up forever. As grateful as I am to have work, I openly admit that I’d love to retire and wander the world again. I don’t regret what I’ve done in my life. But I am conscious that I’m not at the same place as many of my peers.”
Byron sometimes finds it challenging to pursue her career in a community where so many people are visibly enjoying an abundance of time and money.
“At least 75 percent of my friends who are my age have been able to retire,” she says. “Most are pretty well off. So there’s some envy on my part – especially on Facebook – watching them trek the world and follow their bliss.”
The gender gap
For young women scrambling to make a living in the last third of the 20th century, their salient challenge was to find a grip on the economic ladder, and then start climbing.
“I was a new sales rep at a large TV station, the only female among a bastion of men,” Sandi Wall of Sarasota remembers. “After bringing on several new accounts and getting accolades from my boss, one of the good-ol’-boys took me aside to say I was making the guys look bad and that I was ‘taking food off the table’ for his kid. I ignored him and forged ahead to earn three promotions.”
So absorbing was the struggle that for a time, the fact that these women were being paid much less than a man for the same work escaped their notice.
The difference by sex in median annual earnings remained constant in the 1960s and ’70s, at around 40 percent, beginning to drop only in the early 1980s. According to a U.S. Department of Labor tally, it took until 2000 for the median earnings for women to surpass the 1960 average for men: $37,565 – a catch-up delay of 40 years.
This means that for a woman who entered the U.S. workforce in 1969 and retired to Sarasota in 2014, her lifetime career earnings would equal about 68.7 percent of what a man in her position made – with implications not only for her retirement savings but also her Social Security benefits.
(It’s interesting that the Great Recession caused a slight reversal in the closing of the pay gap, but progress has resumed: The difference is now around 20 percent. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that pay parity will not be achieved until 2059; for women of color the rate of improvement will be slower.)
Patricia Garlausky Horwell of Venice marvels that her own mother was able to retire at 65.
“I’m 69 and still working full-time to pay the bills,” she says. “I’m an independent widow and plan to live on my own for as long as I can.”
Margaret Jean Cannon expresses the same determination “to still be doing something meaningful and perhaps for pay well into my 80s.” But for her, it’s a matter of choice. “Yes, I did get paid 25 to 50 percent less than my male counterparts,” she notes. Despite the disadvantage, she bought a home in 1972 and began her retirement savings soon afterwards, eventually investing in income property.
“I learned about finances taking classes at night at community college, and then a university course,” Cannon says. “This has paid off and allowed me the freedom to retire if I so desire. Not ready yet to do this; there is still too much to do. For example, the ERA” – Equal Rights Amendment – “needs one more state to pass.”
Kathy Linstedt Dillard, who moved to Florida in 2005 and lives east of Sarasota, finds inspiration in the combined energies of her boomer counterparts, and believes this region will change as a result.
“I see women doing wonderful things in all different areas – whether it is businesses, volunteering, politics, family, arts – and I feel excited to see so many women coming into their own,” she says. “I feel a resurgence and vitality, and hope that this is just of the tip of the iceberg to an upcoming tsunami of change. We still have a long way to go and many issues to address. But I think women are hearing a call to activism and to be a part, in some way, of making the world a better place.”
2018 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla., Barbara Peters Smith. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC