Retirement planning of sexual minority adults


Retirement planning encompasses a consideration of future financial needs, lifestyle, relationships, and health and is critical for ensuring financial security and quality of life as people age. Population aging adds urgency to this topic, especially when combined with increasing longevity and uncertainty about pensions and future healthcare costs (McDonald & Donahue, 2011). In addition to this major demographic shift, there is an increasing diversity of family forms, with a significant number of Canadian families led by individuals in non-heterosexual (e.g. lesbian, gay, or bisexual) relationships (The Daily, 2012, September 19). However, we know very little about retirement planning among these diverse households.

There are multiple reasons why retirement planning may differ by sexual orientation. Sexual minority adults live in a society where non-heterosexual family forms been historically stigmatized. The minority stress model (Meyer, 2003) suggests lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) adults face additional challenges of stigmatization, internalization of negative messages about LGBT identities, and burden of identity concealment that leads to negative consequences for wellbeing.

Distress and diminished wellbeing have a negative impact on goal-directed behaviour in general (Emmons, 1986) and retirement planning in particular (Hershey & Mowen, 2000). Thus, compared with heterosexuals, LGB adults may face challenges and barriers to retirement planning. These barriers are likely explained by factors strongly related to cumulative disadvantage and minority stress (e.g., diminished social support, disrupted career trajectory, and diminished financial resources). Substantial research documents the benefits of social support and social integration for health and wellbeing (Thoits, 2011) and also that wellbeing and social support foster future orientation and planning. Thus, social support may be a particularly important resource for those in non-traditional living arrangements.


For this Collaborative Research Project our goals were to:

  1. Draw on nationally representative data to examine the nature of retirement planning (broadly defined) among diverse family forms including LGBT adults and the availability of potential resources (e.g., social support) on the retirement planning of heterosexual and LGB adults;
  2. Conduct survey research with non-retired LGBT adults to examine the potential association of identity management, identity disclosure, and experiences of homophobia with retirement planning.


1.  For the nationally representative study, data were drawn from the Statistics Canada General Social Survey (2007), a nationally representative survey with over 23,000 adults. Current analyses are based on a subsample of 9,454 participants aged 45-70, who reported that they had not yet retired. Participants in the sample were asked to identify their sexual orientation (heterosexual, gay/lesbian or bisexual) and answered questions about their retirement plans (e.g. the age at which they planned to retire, the adequacy of their retirement income, sources of information about retirement planning, etc.). Respondents also completed measures of social support, health, workplace satisfaction and other factors that may impact plans for retirement.  

Results show that in direct comparison with heterosexual participants, the retirement planning of lesbian and gay respondents was not significantly different.  However, sexual minority adults were particularly affected by their experience of social support. Lesbian and gay adults with lower levels of social support were particularly likely to report more uncertainty in their retirement planning (e.g., later expected retirement age, greater uncertainty about retirement age, and greater financial uncertainty). These results suggest that for sexual minorities, a group that has been historically stigmatized, the feeling of support and inclusion by their social network seems to have a particularly strong impact on their financial planning for the future.

2. The survey research was conducted with a sample of 434 non-retired French and English-speaking LGBT adults with an average age of 50.  Our previous analyses with Statistics Canada Data suggested there were few (if any) major differences between the retirement planning of LGBT adults and the general population.  However, an examination of LGBT-specific experiences suggest at least three major themes:

Feeling supported and being “out” was associated with less uncertainty about retirement prospects and greater planning for retirement in particular and later life in general (e.g., more likely to have a will, health directive).

Feeling supported and greater identity disclosure were associated with a higher likelihood in seeking retirement planning advice from friends, family and financial advisors for – and although people with more negative experiences (e.g., discrimination) were more likely to avoid conversations about retirement – when they did seek advice, they consulted diverse sources.

Finally, consistent with research on the general population, for LGBT adults, having a partner engaged in retirement planning (e.g., with RRSP investment, later life planning and directives) reduces one’s own uncertainty about retirement – highlighting the importance of considering the relational aspect of LGBT retirement planning.

In sum, with both nationally representative data analysis and LGBT-focused survey research, we found many similarities between sexual minorities and the general population in terms of degree of retirement planning and the relational nature of retirement planning for those in relationships.  However, a few unique issues were found, namely, feeling supported appears to have a particularly strong impact on the retirement planning of sexual minorities and being “out” seems to facilitate planning and conversations about planning.  Thus, in many ways planning for retirement has the same challenges and opportunities for everyone regardless of sexual orientation – but social support and identity disclosure have unique consequences for sexual minorities’ retirement planning

Project members: 
Principal Investigator
Last updated: May 26, 2015