Money and the Boomer Boudoir

Written by Liv Wright — author of the

Bulletin. Bulletin. So, it looks like it’s going to happen in our life time: It looks like women will become primary household breadwinners in the next couple of decades — globally. What effect will that have on sexual behavior in the bedroom? And how will couples adjust to it?

I’ve just finished reading The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Sex, Love and Families by Liza Mundy. It was published in 2012, but I just got around to reading it last week. In it, Mundy reports on the voluminous social research that is examining the sea change in male-female relationships. And the jury is still out.

Women are earning more college degrees than men and are outnumbering men in medical, law, and business school enrolments. Fewer than half of all adults aged 21 to 64 in the US today are married and more than half of all babies born in the US are born to unwed mothers. The number of households in which the woman goes to work and the man stays home to care for the children continues to grow. Today, a very small percent of male earners has the ability to support a family on only one income.

The sea change will largely affect people who are younger than Boomers, though. Our generation still seems hardwired to the images we saw on TV in the 1950s and 1960s. Women still want guys to do the heavy lifting. And guys still want women in secondary roles. The take-away for Boomers will be in learning that the old paradigm is not carved in stone.

money and sexOld ways die hard, however.

I was talking to one of my divorced girlfriends who was sizing up the male retirees in her social circle and calculating in her head their annual pensions as she decided which ones were worthy of her attention. To be sure, the era of the large, guaranteed pension came to an end in our generation. Consider that in a GM car today more of its cost is associated with retirees’ health care than with steel. Consider, too, that Detroit filed for bankruptcy a couple of years ago because of its inability to pay pensions to city retirees.

Welcome to the post-pension world.

In the mid-1980s — when we Boomers were in our 30s and 40s — the guaranteed, defined benefit pension began to go south and the market-based, defined contribution 401(k) became the retirement plan most of us were offered. I have one retired Boomer friend who had the good fortune to work for a trade association whose pension plan combines both the guarantee and the 401(k). His is a rarity. He’s secure and travels wherever he likes, whenever he likes. Only 10 percent of today’s retirees still have guaranteed, or defined benefit, pensions.

And then there is the sizing up of assets that goes on among residents in retirement communities. Your fellow retirees want to know what you’re bringing to the table. There’s a pecking order even among retirees. When I was selling life insurance in the 1970s (yes, I’ve done some of everything!), the conventional retirement model was that of a three-legged stool. The first leg was your Social Security income, the second was your pension, and the third was your savings. Savings! Remember savings? And now pensions are on the ropes, too. Good grief.

So, on fixed incomes, how can we “feather the nest” in the Boomer Boudoir? For one thing, we may have to uncouple the man-on-top/woman-on-bottom archetype we are so fond of and avoid laying guilt trips on each other for not fulfilling traditional gender roles. In her book, Mundy talks about how much we can learn from same-sex couples who aren’t locked into traditional gender expectations.

That might be a good place to start.

In the same way that many of us have learned to text and use Facebook and Twitter, we may have to learn from the younger set that there are other ways to feather the nest. A while ago, I read that some of the largest corporations in the US were assigning younger employees to mentor older employees on the company’s new technology. It occurs to me that we Boomers can learn from younger adults about the gender thing.

Our generation was hardwired to the idea that men should have more money than women. It’s not too late for us to re-think that.