The Effects of Gender-typed Toys

March 21, 2014

Supriya Hobbs and Janna Eaves are painfully aware that they are surrounded by mostly male students in their engineering classes at the University of Illinois. That’s part of the reason they’re behind the new start-up Miss Possible Inc., a toy company with intentions to manufacture dolls for girls fashioned after historical figures like Marie Curie and Amelia Earhart.

“Most toys, especially dolls, are empty,” says Hobbs, “Entrepreneur Barbie wears a suit and has a smart phone; that makes her a CEO?”

This hour on Focus, Scott Cameron talks with Hobbs about the start-up, and why Hobbs and Eaves want girls to be interested in science and technology. We’ll also hear from Analisa Russo, part of the company Electroninks, which is bringing a gel pen to draw circuits to market this summer. Isabelle Cherney, a researcher at Creighton University, will tell us how the toys we play can have an effect on our perceived capabilities and our gender identity.  

Then, we’ll switch gears at the end of the hour when Jake Kuebler of Bluestem Financial Advisors, LLC in Champaign joins us to discuss issues in personal finance.  

Supriya Hobbs loved science ever since she was a little girl something she thinks her parents both chemists for passing on to graduate this year with a degree in chemical engineering. But statistics show she’s in the minority. Far more men go into engineering and other technical fields than women and Supriya wanted to know why I got to college and I was talking to a lot of my peers about you know how they decided to be engineers.

And you know there aren’t that many women in engineering classes and a lot of these people had specific role models in mind that gave her an idea to make science cool for girls through play.

I’m Scott Cameron new efforts to bust the stereotypes about girls and science. Plus the pension overhaul has thousands considering an early retirement. Financial planner Jay Kiba joins us.

That’s coming up on focus. After this news.

Good morning and welcome to focus on W.I.L.L.. I’m Scott Cameron So we know that women are under-represented in fields like science and engineering. We also know that girls starting very young in many cases face stereotypes about gender and play and toys growing up Supriya Hobbs played with molecular modeling kits. Her mom was a chemist so was dad and soon she’ll have a degree from the university Illinois in engineering. Supriya Hobbs joins us now in studio C. Thanks for coming in. Thanks for having me. So despite the statistics here you are almost an engineering degree in hand . Part of what made the difference you said was it was play and role models. How so.

So there’s a big push lately and they always say girls you can’t be what you can’t see and I was lucky enough to be able to see women doing things like chemistry doing things like engineering be right in your own house. And that’s not something everyone has access to. So for me it was kind of obvious.

I had my lands my biggest role model and I’ve always wanted to emulate her so the choice to study chemical engineering is not so out of the norm but not everyone has that experience and in terms of playthings I mean you had to mention to our producer that you played with molecular modeling kits and it was that type of toy a plaything very common for you growing up.

Yeah yeah you know I can’t say I knew what they meant they were more like Lego to me just another way to build things and one of the things I really remember of sparking my interest in science was Kids to Work Day at my dad’s company and we’d make cells out of jello and Candy and we do you know a little vinegar baking soda experiments it was really making science play and that was the thing that stuck out to me.

So science was familiar to you science was kind of cool to you and it was just a part of everyday life right throughout growing up. Now when you’re in an engineering class on campus what’s roughly just what’s the ratio of men to women in class.

I’m studying chemical engineering and I think that tends to be about thirty percent female here across the college of engineering we have about eighteen percent women.

So it’s still not in the twenty percent right point and that’s fairly common from what I can tell statistically across campuses in even the professions that we’re talking about. Yeah pretty common practice so you and your business partner John Eaves have decided to do something to fight some of these stereotypes encourage exactly what you’re talking of that you had growing up to try to make a difference here. What are you working on.

Working on a company called Miss possible soul Miss possibles a startup toy company that wants to increase the number of people that change the world and we think STEM fields are a really great way to do that. So we’re designing a series of dolls that represent real women who made a difference. Think you know millionaire hardship. Sheryl Sandberg Marie Curie and we dial them back so you know you have a doll of a ten year old very curious and all the sudden her story is more relatable from where I sit now it’s really hard to look at that and say I can do that. She got two Nobel Prizes now and imagine being a ten year old girl and looking at that story it’s so hard to imagine yourself in her shoes. If we dial back the clock and all the sudden you’re looking at this ten year old Marie Curie and and she’s really just married to you she’s your doll she’s your friend. You know maybe we make that connection of I can do that too.

So the dolls also come with activities right in the water one of those.

So that part’s still in development. We’re planning to have an app available for download once you purchase a doll and the app tells the story of this role model and again it’s underlining the fact that she started out in a very similar place everyone was ten years old one. So we also want to bring it from just playing to really learning and so what we’re planning to have in this app is activities with your Marie Curie doll you get the story of her life and you get to these you can do in your own kitchen so like I was thinking mixing baking soda and vinegar together that was something that I saw in my childhood a lot and it’s fun just to make trouble. Right. Who doesn’t like them who doesn’t like it right. Right so we want to make that part of the play we want to have the story to inspire them and the activities to really equip them to succeed in this field.

These are powerful role models and Marie Curie before women really were doing any type of science I mean push those boundaries and became really well known for that. You mentioned they can millionaire I heard I was if you don’t know who that is and making it relatable at a younger age by making it a ten year old I mean it’s an interesting concept to drive that to drive that forward. We’re talking here about efforts to change the messages that young girls get about science engineering tech fields. I will talk with a researcher in just a moment what science tells us about how toys and play and gender affect some of these later decisions about school and even careers if this is an issue that you’ve confronted as a woman as a parent as an educator as a child at one point give us a call eight hundred two two two nine four five five. Again eight hundred two two two nine four five five is our number. You can also tweet us I should say that disappear your business partner Janet Eaves is online right now on Twitter and there’s a conversation that we’re hoping to start there as well. That’s at Focus five eighty and at Miss possible link. So the company is called Miss possible which is also a cost. So make that so we hope you’ll join us there on Twitter as their conversation continues as well. Isabel Czerny serves as associate dean of the graduate school at Creighton University. She studies development of gender stereotypes in the department of psychology there. She joins us now by phone from the campus there in Omaha and thank you for time Welcome to the show.

Thank you Scott I really appreciate it.

So there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence you know we were talking here about Supriya growing up and some of the things you know we know what she faces in classes where she’s you know often outnumbered by the men in class. We hear that toys that girls play with a factor later choices including his career choices. Does research back that up.

Yes to some extent it is right I have done a whole bunch of studies looking at toys and how children reason about them and that gives us a good sense of where they go later. So for example early toy choices especially if they’re in pink color really appeal to girls they seem to be very attractive attracted to pink color and purple. But the types of toys that girls typically play with are actually good toys in terms of developing verbal skills and developing what we call nurturing skills or communal goals so in that perspective that it is almost like they are drawn to this type of. Toy when we look at toys on the other hand it’s all about doing it’s all about space. I had coordination and so forth and so what some of my studies have shown is that if you spend more time in activities such as playing outside football or you know you use your eye hand coordination that is actually highly correlated with how people do better in geometry and math and so you could almost say depending on what the environment is like and what the toys are like we can predict to some extent whether or not that person will be good in math and that’s certainly one piece that is part of the the interest for the STEM field in what do we know at this point about you mentioned that those are the toys that young girls and boys tend to be attracted to and we are talking a little bit in generalities here but I mean what what do we know at this point about how that kind of comes to be Are those the toys that are marketed to them are those truly the toys they’re drawn to you know the chicken or egg question I guess right.

It’s probably a mixture of both parents. Give me parents. We have to do all kinds of implicit.

They give out messages that are mostly implicit but what we find is that the parents particularly dad have a hard time with their boys playing with what they called girl toys so they kind of an implicit stereotype that’s attached to that when you go into preschool. You also see that when they play you typically have a very segregated place place. So how for example playing house is mostly done for girls and they won’t allow anybody coming in. Though we do know also that depending on the activities that they do over a long period of time that that you know the brain rewires itself all the time and so that has an influence long term if you haven’t been exposed to some of the toys that may be a little bit more of that other play that we have seen pay a really big role later in life and you mentioned you know we’re talking here about toys and play but you also mentioned some of those other loaded messages that come from parents maybe some teachers in some companies.

How do those factor into this.

So I wouldn’t call. I’m no data because I think most parents are really careful and tried their best to be gender neutral in the end but do you have if you have a two or three year old and you’re going to a birthday party you know the parent or the friend will definitely buy something that age specific but all fellow colorfully Civic to that particular individual. So from a marketing perspective of course if you can fill two of each much better than only one that we have been opposed to in terms of if you look at LEGO they tended to be very masculine and often activities and when they started to come up with the pink and purple Lego’s they were different they were more about what what goals might be more likely to do so now that they’re failing to think we can see if you get bored of the little version and pincushion. So for Mark from a marketing perspective that. So they’re doubling basically their their pay. So from that perspective it is great. But parents and friends really have a very strong sense of what is appropriate for one gender and what is less appropriate for the other gender in typically we see that for girls there is more they have more of an opportunity to really balance in both. They can they can be in both worlds. It’s not quite as for boys.

So you talk about colors and types of toys and what other things has the research looked at that tends to call out to one gender or another.

So Congress is one that we are really familiar with here in the United States. I do. Several studies looking at what bank can draw a child to make different decisions. So for example we showed them pictures that were made of blue or pink. So for color. However when you ask them why is a boy toy or why physical toy you get a whole bunch of different responses to some of them are what we call echo centric. So I’m a boy I like to play with this toy. Therefore all boys will like to play with this toy or vice versa that weight with the girls. We also see that they will use them in terms of oh you know my dad played one of our users tools so the tool box is probably a boy toy just because my dad played with it so we have some of those answers but we also have answers about you know this is what boys two girls do and therefore it is a toy for them and we heard earlier in a supreme Hobbs is still in the studio here talking about the Miss possible doesn’t there working on talk about seeing her mom and her dad you know and just they were surrounded by science.

Are there examples of specific cases where stereotypes or I suppose a lack of stereotypes and Sabrina’s case a sex decisions and outcomes later in life.

Yes And actually the stereotypes are very implicit as well so I’m just going to maybe focus a little bit on on stereotype threat and what that is is basically there. If you’ve been if you belong to a minority or even if you’re perceived to belong to a minority then I’d say women and math. Which by the way is not true but you know talking stereotypes right. Exactly so if if they participate for example boys and girls participating in an exam and you said it and they said that stereotype threat so you say are you a girl or a boy and then you do the math and that alone will make girls under perform when it’s not there and you ask for sex at the end or you don’t you don’t even make that stereotype explicit they perform just as well as boys and we have found that not just with sex but also with race and other issues so it’s very implicit but is there any better has a huge influence on how the people don’t perform so you don’t even have to mention specifically what that stereotype is just referencing the difference itself can yet lead to differences in outcomes.

Yes OK The Supreme here in the studio when did you know you wanted to be an engineer.

You know for the longest time I wanted to be a doctor. I figured math and science is pretty fun it’s pretty good at it. Want to help people and doctor seem like the most obvious choice. I was fortunate enough to get involved in some like research programs for high school students when I was in tenth grade and that’s where I realized the difference between science and engineering and decided that engineering was a good fit for me . Engineering is more about designing something deliberate to solve a problem rather than just searching for the answer. And so that really appealed to me and I thought that was the way I wanted to make my impact

. You had mentioned earlier trying to really do something to change the world. Right and that’s And both of those professions really come back to that type of thing that was ingrained in you really early on. Yeah . Did you find that as you look around and your other friends and things was out the case to they have different challenges or experiences growing up you know a lot of people are very motivated and then specifically girls are very motivated by that sort of social mission

. So you look at fields like bioengineering with you know biomedical devices. It’s not sort of thing and you see far better representation of women in those fields and you know there are a lot of papers there’s a lot of research that shows that girls are more motivated by the social mission of changing the world and you know I think that’s part of getting engineering and science to more girls it’s sharing that message and making sure that they understand that this is one way they can change the world and is a go tournament coming back to you with a point .

How does that play into this has also marketing professions to appeal to what you described earlier as some of these general differences between boys and girls growing up . How does that factor into this.

Oh and I totally agree with what we had just said by the way we do see that interest is is very high in helping professions for girls and for example the chemical the American Chemical Society that really did a nice job lately in highlighting how chemistry can really help people by developing air bags or other things. So I actually I think I totally agree with what Supriya just said so in terms of the marketing that happens there it is the marketers appeal to girls in particular what they should do and I think that’s what it wanted to be doing is just to show that the science. Engineering in particular is a great one because it’s a low weight with women that this is a profession where you can help and girls are particularly not only attracted to this but that’s where we find the most female in the field of education in the field of sensing and so forth. So marketing engineering is solving problems right there and then and you’re part of the solution is perfect.

And part of doing that I would imagine would also involve having more women at the table making these decisions. So as it’s things are talked about as brochures are put together as interviews happen like Supreme was talking about just seeing somebody like you at that table can make a big difference.

Very much so and what we need more often even this is being at the table but also have some of the supporters that will go on and really put the women at the table everywhere. So you’re talking about you know young girls and how young these messages begin to young girls that they should you know maybe play with dolls not building blocks not for for both boys and girls had it happened very early on I mean you know the baby is born and there are already implicit messages that we give to both boys and girls. Just a short example for example we tend to pick up girls and then have the baby watch . Well for boys it’s no problem to have the baby watch the outside which gives an implicit message that it’s OK for boys to explore the outside your awful life worried about them going anywhere when they crawl then for girls. So those are you know sort of implicit messages that we have very early on. We also know that they can distinguish with the mother and father got different by just hearing voices and so forth but the reinforcement really is based throughout they have a blue room they have a pink room day people give them different types of toys to play with and there’s a lot of implicit behavior off though for boys that they that they pick up because they left them out to play with girls that if a boy plays with adults you will you will hear some reaction by the father completely you know it is generally the father.

Yes we have found and in multiple studies that women and mothers are less bothered by custom to play and .

Also only for some of that. Again it’s really not meant to be it is completely intersect and if we can make them aware of what they do that they could change just by saying Good morning boys and girls actually makes a difference as opposed to one as opposed to the morning.

Really why would it make a difference just because you are saying that you’re making a gender stand yet interesting as they both feel welcome. Both groups are welcome all groups are welcome.

Oh they are still welcome but if you then line up you will see that boys will go with boy scouts with God But if you just say good morning we see less of that

. So very very small changes that can be made. We have a huge impact

. Interesting. I’m curious I was reading in some of the research I did is getting ready for the show. Charlotte Allen She’s an author and a columnist. She wrote an op ed in the L A Times recently and she wrote in part she says maybe little girls actually like pink and purple they actually like pretend home decoration pretend mothering a baby animals and boys she says maybe they’re more interested in building vast mechanical and architectural projects because their brains are different and they as a group she says have superior spatial skills whereas girls she says tend to gravitate toward interpersonal connections and stories. She seems to be saying if I read between the lines of that you know of course girls and boys play in different ways and that’s OK.

Yes absolutely I mean it is OK to play what you in truth are and companies with monkeys have shown for example monkeys who have never played with any toy. Even as soon as they are they’re born basically they’ll gravitate to the male monkey will gravitate to a truck and the two little monkeys will gravitate to a stuffed animal for example. So that’s just sort of to look at is is there anything in me that would make it more likely to do something . So there is little doubt that boys and girls will act differently because of the way that their brain are. However when we know someone like that is show very clearly that some of the toys for example girl toys and if it actually higher play complexity that is. Sequencing of this is an act that is actually a higher cognitive level of functioning early on and boy because they’re not allowed to or you know they’re frowned upon to play with some of the toys they will never actually show that play complexity so to some extent it has a negative influence in case of psychologists making decisions on how they play. It’s merely because the toy that they play with may not be the one the appropriate one that they can use doing today. Well I know that over time when you spend so much time doing one activity to the expense of another one. Yes girl toy typically the better part of government. Great but the special skills should also be encouraged to be youth. So I did several studies actually looking at the video game for example as a mitigator if they special skill because by a by a team one thousand if the great differences in terms of spatial skill particularly in sort of mental rotation. Again is highly correlated with the math for girls only not for men but if we can mitigate something in the environment and I have shown that even playing a three dimensional game for two hours is enough to actually close that gap .

So imagine if a girl was to play and I’m just giving that as an example but she would play for say ten years a little bit as a three dimensional game you know her spatial skills probably then better developed.

It’s clear that there are some differences in the way the boys and girls play that that’s sort of you know whether you look at the chicken egg nature or nurture that’s there are some facts there so that we’re talking about here today is more about the messages whether they’re direct or implicit or otherwise that both girls and boys tend to get about what they should be doing and playing with and what their roles might be and how that affects them as they make decisions on about classes to take about jobs to work on. You can join the conversation this is something you’ve experienced whether growing up as a parent as an educator eight hundred two two two nine four five five is our number. Also a conversation going on on Twitter right now at Focus five eighty and at Miss possible link Miss possible the company co-founded with Supriya Hobbs and her partner John Eaves who is manning. Well meaning I guess that was a horrible thing to say right now the atmos possible Twitter account I’m sorry about that . Another local company is also taking it just a slightly different approach to confronting some of these stereotypes. Annalisa Russo is director of stem outreach and product development at a company called electron inks. She’s a grad student in materials science at the U. of I and joins us now by phone. Emily So welcome to focus I think for having what is electronics.

So it’s a company that I am I made in the latest research group started to start commercializing technologies for prints electronics and one of the projects that I’ve been working on as a grad student is a jelling And so the connected building that we use for directly patterning electronic circuits on the paper.

OK And how do you see you envision this is something that can be marketed to young girls and the boys.

Yeah exactly and it’s interesting that when I first started this research we created this tool as a target. If you think that maybe engineers and after we’ve had our share first research paper on it we’ve got a lot of inquiries about you know how this could be used for some education and now our focus and our goals really are just you and I try to bring tech sector to dive installations and by basically getting on with the connect to the brink and then something real to get components directly into this.

OK so you’ve got a pen that literally writes in an ink that can form a circle and exactly the kid in a classroom or home or whatever maybe again a boy or girl could take that and maybe some of us have know it like the old breadboard to be put in little circuits and little wires and then you can make up an alarmist somebody moves by right senses light or it can make a who knows all sorts of types of things. So this is an update on that technology right there in a pen where you can also draw in it’s a very craft type thing that’s going to be attractive to kids all types of kids of all types of ages .

How important do you think it is as you’ve looked into this and talk to teachers and things like that for not only girls and boys to see each other creating innovating but also for teachers and parents to see them doing exactly the same type of thing and I think that’s really important actually and I got a little bit of experience doing workshops with kids of all ages and using the tickets and and there’s none in a particular example and really happened in a rucksack. An it girl. One of our exit and he gets the paper getting L.E.D. the light and other you colored markers to kind of create a gadget like you know kids normally do and go on and I think her parents are actually more impressed than Hewitt that you actually need a parking ticket and she had no idea she was doing science she was just having fun and great Hughes’s dealing and happen to be creating something at the same time and so I think that at that moment that they did not have it in her parent you need to get you know look into more like engineering an educational I played you know for their six year old.

So that moment may have busted some stereotypes right there for her parents. What did you play with growing up and how did that affect your decisions.

Do you think rushing is I mean I’m a grad student and people still and there are a lot of assumption.

I mean like they they actually still ask me you know you’re an engineer themis event in hunger advocating and taking things apart and how do you know that I actually didn’t really do any of that. I played a lot of musical instruments and the kid out there really like art and like drying and dying and in addition I had a lot of like vintage low tech toys around the house like fire guy and then got like that. Did you did you encounter some of these messages that you know hey you should be playing with this and not that I just started playing with whatever I found interesting that I have an older brother and you actually well can carry tape here and take things apart and that’s interesting too.

There’s also been research done that shows the girls who have brothers in the house tend to gravitate to more of those types of fields and toys as well.

Yes it does and in particular the girls really like boy toy because they’re more fun. So we do find that yes those who have better to have more likely an exposure to the toys and that there’s less of a taboo in it as well.

So when people buy get their hands on electronics.

So we have even successful Kickstarter campaign back in December . And right now we’re looking to deliver products or backers in June and our product is also available for pre-order right now on our website and Annalisa Russo is director of stem outreach and product development at a champagne company called electronics.

Lisa good luck with the launch. Thank you so much it was nice to talk to you. Isabella come to you for just a minute here. There’s as we hear different types of things going up. What tends to be more effective the gender neutral toys or toys that are marketed to girls specifically but that deliver specific messages about science.

Brother maybe it’s a combination of both I think gender neutral times are hard to find in the first place because that the colors the colors have now really inundating everything that’s gender neutral. A couple studies to get at that question actually on what it is. For example I would use an biggest toy biggest toys are where one function might be more masculine that the color might be more feminine.

For example a purple pink airplane and so that really confuses boys and girls and so yeah they’re not quite sure because you know it’s a plane and therefore it’s more likely to be the effect that if it’s a boy toy but then they see the color and they’re not quite sure what that means. So there’s some it’s really quite complex to look at that those differences gender neutral is typically what is what adults call gender neutral are typically toys that appeal to both or not and to some extent the more the the educational type toy now but as a marketing person you probably would want to be more like this is for girls if that’s what you’re trying to use that group this type of story would attract that type of thing you know you know you probably would sell actually more by doing it because typically for a gender.

Well so you have the Miss possible in the DOS command I have the activities in the absence of them. Why dulls one of a chemistry set or building blocks or something .

Right so that is something that we’ve gotten a lot of questions about and you know for us we think that. Parents that are inclined to buy their kids chemistry sets are going to find find a way to expose their daughters to chemistry one way or another. Right and we see dolls as a way of introducing these messages in these role models in a way that’s really familiar to girls and really comfortable to girls so we want to make sure that that all girls are getting the messages of strength and not just the girls with the parents that are automatically inclined to buying science kits and that sort of thing and so it’s sort of a guerilla marketing in a way trying to sneak in where people are thinking about this but you know if they want them to think about it off the top writers realize hey here’s a really cool toy and oh by the way is it sending a really positive message too right.

Interesting. Isabel was thinking about this a little more if I’m a toy company I want to send a positive message to girls. What do I do.

I think that’s good. We had just said you know you want to send a message that all the girls want to have that toy. So something that they would typically like in that the parents typically buy all our friends and then put it if you have that toy you really part of that group because girls are very much about relationships and you can gain access to a group by being the same and so I plodded really the idea because I think it does have a marketing appeal because it’s not gender neutral per se. And girls too like golf and you are giving them an a message that is different from the Barbie or deprived all of the other types of dogs. And when you look at the the American dollar which have been hugely successful there certainly is a market for for those age group for that.

Let me squeeze in one click on the line .

Thank you for taking me and here I have a granddaughter she’s going to be to she. As a typical little girl things dragging around dollars kitchens Sat’s blah blah blah. No other kind of excess feminine exposure. What does she need to play with at this age that would be more rounded like what the guys would do or what we would talk about what being an engineer or doctor what kind of toys you should be playing with besides just a girl thing girl oriented things she have access to things like blocks and Lego’s right now I guess to blocks not blocks but Lego is yes we have two big things a Lego is OK the sandbox and she has a ball things like that but she runs around the dial and it’s I mean it sounds like you’re concerned that by running around the doll that that might be limiting her. Yes her her other side of the family is very female oriented all the cousins are girls.

There are no boys her age or even closer it is about turning them in turn that one over to you I mean do you think is should there be a concern first of all that she’s gravitating toward a doll and second that is are something that should be done whether or not there’s a concern there to encourage her and other things I would say concerned because she’s still very young and he is exploring probably doing some pretend play which is absolutely great in terms of development and what. What you can start doing though is to let to let your granddaughter go outside and mess up the backyard and play with her in terms of fetching the ball or go for a walk and have her pick up a rock and you know make it a game. Because we have what we have found in research. That being outside really and boys do that typically more that you develop a better understanding of space and that is very helpful all the time. I wouldn’t say she should start playing with a video game but when she gets to the age where she is really interested maybe you could draw her attention to from three D. game. There are some great games now for I don’t even know and I won’t say what companies but where the they are little people who have to go through mazes and all that and that’s a great way to develop those other cognitive fences.

Like man I can count on that sort of thing really wasn’t exclusively building two and so yeah so take heart is the message I’m hearing here.

That’s OK And I think you’re exactly right sort expanding ounce for those toys It sounds like you know get outside and do some things and just make sure that she has access to a number of different things and she is she continues to develop . OK Jim thank you very much for the call it was nice for taking me back and Supriya When can people start buying these dolls.

We’re planning to launch our Kickstarter campaign in September to sell our first set of dolls So definitely keep an eye out there and let people know an already great and that’s a miss possible .

Yes Is that the company there. All right well thank you both Isabelle Czerny essers associate dean of the graduate school at Creighton University she studies development of gender stereotypes among other issues in the department psychology there. She joined us by phone from the campus in Omaha. Professor Turney thank you very much. Thank you very much Scott. And Supriya Hobbs a senior at the University of Illinois studying chemical engineering. She co-founded with John Eaves a company Miss possible Inc There’s still a conversation going on on Twitter you can find it at Focus five eighty and at Miss possible Inc Sapir joined us here in Studio C. I think you are talking us good luck with the project. Thank you very much. And up next financial planner Jake Jake Keebler joins us. Stay with us focus on W.R.A.L.. And welcome back to focus on Scott Cameron once a month roughly on the show we check in with our personal finance experts today Jack Keebler joins us again he’s a certified financial planner with Bluestone financial advisors with us here in Studio C. objectives for coming in. Yeah great to be here Scott. And if you have questions general questions about preparing for retirement buying a new house selling a house saving for college. Give us a call the number is eight hundred two two two nine four five five. If you’d rather you can also drop us an e-mail that address is will dash talk at Illinois dot edu and Jake we’re talking a little bit the other day about what types of things are going on right now what what we might want to talk about today. And there were a couple of interesting side angles on some big news stories right now. One is the pension overhaul might might have thousands of state university workers at least considering retirement sooner than expected . The other being tax season and how the wording specifically of the same sex marriage law in Illinois may have some couples looking to refile some their previous federal returns. Let’s start with with pensions. One lawmaker that we talked to called it an unintended consequence that as many as ten thousand university employees may may lose hundreds of dollars a month if they don’t retire by July first. I doubt huge caveat here anyone close to retirement I think this may affect them . Contact your financial planner contact Cers find out it’s very heavily dependent on individual situations but let’s talk about this idea this bigger idea of making a sudden decision to retire in you know a three month span here. Is that enough time to prepare to retire.

Unfortunately it is not. We generally see retirement as being a very large life transition on the order of getting married having children and trying to rush into a decision like that for the financial reason for the financial implications of it only might turn out to be a big mistake.

And what and what are some of the considerations. If I was in your face the decision to retire sooner rather than you expected

well. So I think with any sudden life transition there can be some unintended consequences such as grief. For instance retirement for people who are either forced into retirement you know early retirement scenarios what you can sometimes see is the sense of loss because a lot of people have at least a portion of their identity wrapped up in their career and it kind of defines who they are give some purpose. It’s something that’s raising it out of bed in the morning I’m going to do this thing and then then you’re rewarded with pay among other things I don’t it’s you know it’s stimulating it keeps your mind active and so transitioning that quickly into retirement. You know do you have a plan for what comes next you know what are you going to do to keep busy do you have other hobbies other interests in so I think trying to do that in three months.

It’s kind of like making a major life choice with very little time to do it and then coming back to the financial aspects a little bit I mean your time is often very complicated to most people retire or have a single source of income say a pension plan or something or is it more complex and what we find is that most people have a smattering of different resources that are going to provide for them through out retirement and so you’re looking at coordinating not only a pension which for many in the community that is a large portion of their retirement but there’s often. Social security that comes into play and other retirement savings that often is relied upon whether it’s the major or just a supplemental source of income and so when you talk about rushing into a decision then this question of OK yeah the pension may be one component but how is an early retirement going to affect some of those other pieces. So if you need additional supplemental savings and you’re retiring early are you putting an additional strain on your retirement because not only do you have additional years that that savings needs to support but you’ve had a few years of savings and growth in order to generate enough savings that you’re going to be OK and there are two things to think about two inches are just other than the money coming in from whatever type of retirement account or planner for a one K. or IRAs that you might have you know when you retire often you have to pay more for insurance say and some of the other things that you want to maybe not thinking about right away.

Correct right if you’re if you’re leaving you know you may have employer benefits to rely upon and so that could certainly be an added expense. And then at the same time you may be making other changes in your life. Downsizing you may have a spouse that’s working or not working and so there’s that there’s a lot of decisions to make and so trying to make that in a short time span is very difficult.

Do you find that many people you know this ones that you do you talk to around here after retiring decide to go back to work part time or find other ways to either have something that feels meaningful to them or to make extra income.

I think there’s two paths that we’re seeing now with a lot of clients the first is clients who don’t have a set in date so much as a more of a declining almost glide path into retirement and those those are folks who are to the point where maybe they’re financially independent they’re probably going to be OK but they choose to work because they enjoy it. And so often you might see them giving up some of the higher stress parts of their jobs or reducing their workload or maybe their hours so that they’re more flexible to travel spend time with family. Having grandchildren that sort of thing and it tends to if you have a position where it’s flexible to do that it can be very rewarding because you can start that transition early and you can start figuring out besides my career what other things can I fill my life with. But of course we do have we have seen people who do make either sudden retirement choices or forced into it and oftentimes they are looking for other things to fill their time and energy with and may be anything from going back to work part time whether it was with their former company or finding new sources of employment either to occupy their time or their energy. And of course volunteering in other activities often feel that as well.

These are just thinking about you know if I were if I was facing this decision here and trying to look at the numbers and figure things out and I’m not I guess I just got here . You know I sit down I command I sit down with you and what’s what’s the first thing you’re going to say OK you need to look at this. Where do I start.

Who that’s a good question. Retirement is a very complex issue because you’re involving a lot of different areas of your financial life all in one question you have everything from investing in insurance and everybody so is this really. Yeah right so there’s a lot of different pieces that fit into that question. I would say that the number one question that we see for someone contemplating retirement is how do I create a retirement paycheck . Most of us know how much money do I need. Most of us are used to having a regular paycheck that comes in every two weeks or once a month and we know how to.

Use our cash flow to pay any upcoming obligations and so you almost have to switch your mindset of OK Every week my paycheck comes and this is what bills I have. This is when my mortgage is due to from this mindset of savings to a mindset of distribution and how do I turn it this lump sum into something sustainable and something that I can draw upon regularly so that I know I’m not taking too much or maybe there is opportunity to be taking more so that’s one of the big questions that we’re often looking at and it’s a very complex and unique for each individual circumstance and it that idea of a nest egg it’s a psychological hurdle too because for so long you’ve been putting and putting and putting And you’ve been told You have to build this thing up and up and up and now we’re in a position we’re actually going to be drawing down great with no idea of how long you’re going to need to do that.

Absolutely a lot of question marks.

Absolutely yes it’s a very it’s a very difficult thing to do. I mean even myself I’m sure you’re in the same position that. You’ve been told you’ve got to save if you’re going to be OK and that it feels uncomfortable to have to dip into that and so now you’re looking at going from a regular source of financial security to completely reliant on the resources that you’ve set aside for yourself in pensions and Social Security can help that but it’s like I said it’s often not the entire picture.

Well it’s personal finance day here on focus. If you have questions about preparing for retirement or other issues going on give us a call eight hundred two two two nine four five five A-J. Keebler is with us again today and the other topic that we mentioned at the start of the second here was Texas. Fifteenth now less than a month away absolutely nothing on us. This year there’s something different specifically for same sex couples in particular may have some decisions to make this takes a little bit of back story what. How do we get to this point.

So this is been an interesting few years for those same sex couples who are trying to plan their own financial and tax situation. What we saw is in two thousand and eleven Illinois enacted civil unions effectively giving many of the same rights on a state level to those couples who are considered legally married. And so from a tax perspective what they were allowed to do is file a joint Illinois return but they were not allowed to file joint federal returns for the past couple years. What those couples would have to do is create a mock federal return as if they were filing jointly in Israel and I return would actually begin from the point of what is your federal adjusted gross income and yet the federal gov DOMA didn’t recognize those at the time. Correct so they were filing not only to individual federal returns but then they’d have to create this mock federal return to start the Illinois return. So it was it was interesting to try to create those returns and then we’ve had some changes of course in two thousand and thirteen with the Supreme Court striking down of of DOMA and shortly after that the iris came out of the ruling stating that in in their eyes any marriage that was recognized by state or institution as a marriage would also be recognized by the federal government. Now when I was in a situation where they were not recognizing same sex marriage but they were recognizing same sex civil union So as of December two thousand and thirteen it was still looked upon as for federal purposes you were not married for state purposes you were in a civil union and then Illinois passed a law last year recognizing same sex marriage in the state and there was one word that frankly had slipped by me but it was the word retroactive correct and actually an almost a bias as well but the law does state that from the point of June first which is when same sex marriage goes into effect. Those who are under civil unions could retroactively convert back to a marriage as of the date that their civil union the same and acted so that’s going back to twenty eleven years her returns have already been filed correct.

There’s an opportunity maybe depending on situations to refile and recoup.

The money correct and it gets even a little bit more complicated than that. In that New Year two thousand and thirteen tax filing deadline is generally April fifteenth and so you’re not allowed to convert that civil union to a marriage until June first . And so today a same sex couple is still considered single for federal purposes and so what we’ve been recommending is that clients who are in that situation consider putting their returns on extension basically giving them six additional months to file. So far that extension and say wait till after the deadline so you can file right the way you’d want to correct and then if they convert their term civil union to a marriage which is considered retroactive then the federal government generally looks upon for tax purposes. The state is the one that determines marital status . So if the state is saying that your marriage is retroactive from any tax angle I can find there’s nothing that that states you can’t go back then and amend those tax returns and this is for couples who do want to get the marriage this is if you if you choose to stay in a civil union.

Under the tax law as it stands now it’s not they don’t get that same benefit.

Correct and there are there are more than just tax reasons to consider getting married I would not enter into a marriage just for the benefit alone. But there could be other financial implications as well such as Social Security or estate planning rights there are a lot of implications financially of a marriage over a civil union.

Now we mentioned the June first deadline you know Cook County champagne County there may be others have gone ahead sooner in terms of same sex marriage how does that play into this as well.

It’s as far as we can tell the ability to convert still is June first and then it will continue for one year after that so there actually ARE some time and time restrictions it’s not an unlimited ability to convert that back.

OK in what types of things that same sex couples should keep in mind as they try to make these decisions look at tax returns and other things going on right now.

Well that there’s a lot of financial implications the tax returns specifically. One nice feature of these changes is that the I.R.S. is not requiring you to go back and change tax returns so if you do decide to convert that means going forward you would be filing a joint federal return. However if it’s not beneficial for you to change prior returns then you don’t have to. And there may not be beneficial for everybody. Correct yeah. Some people it may be very beneficial and other people may actually end up costing a little bit more in taxes really just depends on your family situation. OK All right.

Jay Keeler certified financial planner with blue stem financial advisors here in town. He joined us here in Studio C. as he does from time to time. Jake thanks for coming in hope to see you next month maybe pick up on the real estate angle as the housing market starts. Pleasure to be here. Today’s program was produced by Ryan Webber. Jason Croft is our technical director. Lindsey Moon is Focus’s producer will be back next Friday unfocussed tell me more airs Monday through Thursday at ten A.M. and again at eight P.M. You can also send us feedback on the show any time e-mail focus at Illinois dot edu or on Twitter at Focus five eighty eight. I’m Scott Cameron thanks for joining us today this is focus on W.R.A.L..