In A Nutshell
In studies that look at the impact of age gaps in relationships, it’s been found that not only does the number of years between you increase your likelihood for divorce, but that it also impacts your life span. In couples with an older man and younger woman, the man’s longevity usually increased in the studies, while the woman’s decreased. When the opposite is true and the woman is older, her lifespan also decreased in the studies. That’s not to say marriage is a bad thing, though, as life expectancies for married people are higher than for unmarried people.
The Whole Bushel
When it comes to relationships, age gaps are a pretty tricky thing that people are quick to judge. If there are too many years between a couple, people will talk. But what constitutes “too many years”? There are varying opinions on that, but some studies point to odd consequences to marrying someone a few decades older (or younger) than you are.
One study found an apparent correlation between age gaps and likelihood for divorce, stating that every five-year increase in age difference leads to as much as an 18 percent increase in the likelihood of a relationship ending in divorce. By the time you get to a 20-year age difference, you’re already 95 percent more likely to divorce. That’s based on data gathered from 3,000 Americans.
Another study, done at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, looked at how being involved in an age-gap relationship impacts the life span of the partners. This time, more than 1.8 million married people (from Denmark) were a part of the study, and what they found was something of a double-edged sword.
For men who had a younger spouse, their longevity was likely to see a boost. For the other partner, though, having an older spouse was correlated to a shortened life span. Even relatively small age gaps of only a year or two seemed to impact survival rates. Weirdly, one of the reasons the study gives for the pattern is that the healthier a man is, the more likely he is to attract a younger woman, and to increase the age gap while he lives to a more advanced age.
When the man was younger, though, the pattern didn’t hold up. Women in the study still seemed to get the short end of the stick. When couples were separated by an age gap of seven to nine years with the woman being older, her mortality risk went up by 20 percent.
One explanation offered suggested that the idea of an older woman and a younger man might go against what the majority of people think is acceptable, and might result in more stress, less social support, and a greater negative impact on her health.
In the end, the study determined that the most beneficial partnership—statistically speaking—for women is the one where both partners are the same age, or close to it.
The University of Turku in Finland found a formula that seemed more balanced. Well, as long as you’re one of the Sami people and you lived between the 17th and 19th centuries. A survey and study of church records was done to try to find the perfect age gap. (The time period of the study was chosen to eliminate any impact modern medicine might have.)
Researchers found that while age gaps ranged up to 25 years (three was the average), the optimal age gap—as determined by the number of healthy children that survived to adulthood—was 14.6 years, with the man being older.
When that’s updated to the modern era, that lessens to six years.
Show Me The Proof
Science Daily: Downside of marriage for women
The Atlantic: For a Lasting Marriage, Try Marrying Someone Your Own Age
Scientific American: What Is the Best Age Difference for Husband and Wife?
“How Does the Age Gap Between Partners Affect Their Survival?” by Sven Drefahl