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1. Retirement plans and the sexes

By Rosemary Wright

Greenwich pensioner by Whistler 1859. Source: Library of Congress.

In 2011, the oldest Baby Boom workers reached the age of 65 — an age that more than 60 million Baby Boomers will reach by 2030. The issue of retirement weighs particularly on women, who are likely to outlive men and therefore have a longer period of retirement to finance.

In the study “Paying for Retirement: Sex Differences in Inclusion in Employer-Provided Retirement Plans,” I turned to the Baby Boomers to determine whether this new generation of women were well-prepared with retirement benefits. Is the retirement gap between Baby Boom men and women narrower than for older retirees? Are women still dependent on a husband’s retirement income for security in old age? To look at these differences, I examined a large sample obtained from the 2009 Current Population Survey for the differences between Baby Boom men and women’s inclusion in retirement plans, as well as predictors of inclusion in these plans.

The results of the new study showed a significantly higher percentage of women than men (68.4% vs. 65.2%) worked for an employer who offered retirement benefits. A slightly higher percentage of men than women (92.4% vs. 91.1%) were included in their employers’ retirement programs. Overall, significant positive predictors of working for an employer with a retirement plan were sex (women more likely than men), employment in a core industry or in a primary occupational sector, educational attainment, and government worker status (government workers more likely than non-government workers). On the other hand, significant negative predictors were minority status (minorities less likely than non-minorities), age (older workers less likely than younger workers), having children younger than age 18 (those with children under the age of 18 less likely than those with no children under 18), and immigrant status (immigrants less likely than non-immigrants).

Minority status and educational level were the only two predictors for which there was a significant sex difference. Minority women were less likely than minority men to work for an employer with retirement benefits. As educational attainment increased, men were more likely than women to work for an employer providing retirement benefits.

Significant positive predictors of a worker actually being included in an employer’s retirement program were age (older workers more likely to be included than younger workers), employment in a core industry or in a primary occupational sector, educational attainment, marriage (married workers more likely than non-married workers), and government worker status. Minority status was the only significant negative predictor of inclusion (minority workers less likely than non-minority workers to be included).

There was only one variable with a significant difference between men and women: government employment. Female public employees were more likely than male public employees to be included in their employers’ retirement programs.

Two major good-news stories emerge from this study. First, a much larger group of workers is included in an employer’s retirement plan in this study than received pension benefits in earlier studies. This reflects the expansion of the types and availability of retirement benefits available to workers today, and is a good sign for retirement security as Baby Boom workers begin to retire. Second, there was only one predictor for which the likelihood of being included in a retirement

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2. the architecture of a parrot - Michelle Lovric


Have you ever thought that life would be easier if all writers married other writers?

Look what happens when you ‘marry out’.

When a writer marries an architect, she gets to type her manuscripts gothic-ly onto a dusty keyboard in a dusty corner, quaffing her coffee from chipped cups. For she dwells in a permanent building site.

On the other hand, the writer also learns to see things in a whole different way: whereas I look at the Venetian palazzi that surround us only to read the murders and rampant romances inscribed on their blistered paint, he sees the architect’s blueprints. Sometimes these are not uninteresting: sneaky soil-pipes, rampant rustication, Boschean chimneyscapes.

That’s all well and good. But what happens when the architect comes home with the seedling of a story that’s just begging to be nurtured into life, but literarily-speaking empty-handed?

Frustration, that’s what happens.

Like the day my husband rescued a parrot for the Guardia di Finanza, the Italian VAT tzars.

The tzars slouch about in a long grey barracuda of a boat. One day last summer, my husband saw the barracuda ripping its sides in an attempt to reach a narrow bank where a vivid green parrot was clinging to some moss. Uniformed tzars barked peremptory orders. My husband and our friend Bruno were to approach the parrot in our tiny boat, the Coniglio galleggiante, (‘the floating rabbit’). Bruno grabbed the bird, and, slightly pecked, handed it over to the officers.

This had the makings of something good, right?

But even under torture, even under scorn, even subjected to blatant bribery and other pleasant blandishments, my husband was been unable to deliver any more salient details about the rescued parrot of the Guardia di Finanza: the stuff writers ask about. Was it, for example, the Guardia’s own office parrot? A more exciting escaped contraband parrot? Confiscated from Columbian drug-runners? Pining for the Fijords? Escaped from gilded cage in a contessa’s gilded palazzo? Was it a he or a she? Did it have an exotic name? Did it speak, or better still, swear? In Venetian? Or Italian? (Venetian swears are like obscene short stories, often involving mothers, household implements and biologically-challenging insertions). What (getting desperate) about the architecture of the parrot itself? What were the Intelligent Designer’s plans for it? Green, red? Yellow tailfeathers? Lovely plumage?

No. Not a chirp. Not a whistle.

The spouses and offspring of writers should be constantly aware of their responsibilities. If something good happens to them, they should put on the siren and rush home with a stack of fresh, throbbing, juicy detail in the mental equivalent of a padded organ-transplant cool-box, every little incident lovingly packed away for the writer’s use, uncorrupted even by interpretation, exaggeration or embellishment. (That’s the writer’s job.)

Oh dear. I remind myself of the ever-charmless James McNeill Whistler, who came to Venice in 1879. Whistler affected a Japanese cane wand to orchestrate conversations, often referred to himself pompously in the third person. When his housemate, also an artist, showed Whistler his sketch of a Venetian scene, he was told: ‘This is a good subject. When you find one like this, you should not do it, but come and tell Whistler.’

But seriously, the more I think about it, the more I think there should be Arvon courses and UEA degrees in ‘Being Married to, or related to a Writer’. Lessons in making coffee, anxiety therapy, but most of all: delivering the raw material urgently and in good condition. I’d sign up my husband right away.

Meantime, we’ve appointed our boat the new Servizio per la Salvaguardia dello Pappagallo, the Parrot Rescue Service, ‘su appuntamento’ to the Guardia di Finanza. I had a logo designed by the talented Lisa Pentreath, whose daughter Emily was the very first reader of my novel The Undrowned Child.

But I remain inconsolable. I love my new insignia, but I know that the really good story got away.

2 Comments on the architecture of a parrot - Michelle Lovric, last added: 8/20/2009
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