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What Are Your Top Priorities in Retirement?

Will Your Personality Change in Retirement?

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By Joe Casey

While passing by and seeing this title, my wife commented, “Let’s hope so.” Oh, well.

Our personalities were previously thought to develop early in life through childhood, adolescence and early adulthood and then remain fairly static. Now it appears that certain aspects of personality evolve later in life.

Does Your True Personality Become More Apparent in Retirement?

“As individuals age, they become increasingly like themselves…the personality structure stands more clearly revealed in an old than in a younger person.” (Hooker, 2002).

Retirees often reconnect with passions and interests they had earlier in life, and now have time to pursue them again. Taking a life-course perspective, certain interests can come full circle – and perhaps certain personality traits do as well.

The ‘Big Five’ Personality Traits

The five-factor model of personality consists of five dimensions:

  • Openness to Experience (having a range of interests, imagination and insight)
  • Conscientiousness (being responsible, organized, detailed and thorough)
  • Extraversion (being outgoing, high-energy and assertive)
  • Agreeableness (being sympathetic, considerate and warm)
  • Emotional Stability (or Neuroticism) – (even-keeled versus tense and anxious)

What Tends to Change

Of the Big Five factors, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness have been found to increase in the fifth and sixth decades of life and beyond, while Openness to Experience has been found to decrease (Roberts & Mroczek, 2008). It’s important to note, that like the aging process itself, there are general trends, but significant individual differences. Life experiences, environmental circumstances and genetics all play a role. For example, one study found that remarried men were found to have lower Neuroticism (Roberts & Mroczek, 2008).

Conscientiousness generally increases with age. This often manifests itself in more attention to habits and behaviors that can serve as mediating factors to neutralize stress, avoid disease and enhance health (Roberts, 2006).

Unfortunately, scammers seem to know the Agreeableness trend and use it to prey on elderly adults. (As an undergraduate Psychology major, I often wondered who knew more about human nature? My professors or the criminal element I came across in my hometown north of Boston. Discuss…).

Why It Matters

These personality changes tend to create greater “social maturity”. This enhanced social maturity leads to greater connectivity and stronger relationships that, in turn, are associated with better health outcomes (Roberts & Mroczek, 2008).

If you sense these changes in yourself or your partner (‘He’s so much more mellow now’), embrace them. They’re probably very good for both of you and your health and well being.

Joe Casey is a former senior HR executive, who is in his second career as an executive coach and retirement coach at


Costa Jr, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (2006). Age changes in personality and their origins: comment on Roberts, Walton, and Viechtbauer (2006).

Hannon, K. (2014, August 8). Finding an identity beyond the workplace: There’s more to retirement than financial planning. The New York Times. Retrieved at

Hooker, K. (2002). New directions for research in personality and aging: A comprehensive model for linking levels, structures and processes. Journal of Research in Personality, 36, 318-334.

Shanahan, M. J., Hill, P. L., Roberts, B. W., Eccles, J., & Friedman, H. S. (2014). Conscientiousness, health, and aging: the life course of personality model. Developmental Psychology50(5), 1407.

Srivastava, S. (2016). Measuring the Big Five Personality Factors. Retrieved 21 December 2016 from

Roberts, B. W., Walton, K. E., & Viechtbauer, W. (2006). Personality traits change in adulthood: Reply to Costa and McCrae (2006).


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