There are many factors that can put strain on a marriage – money worries, work stress, the demands of a new baby, to name a few. A new study finds that a large age gap between partners may also take its toll.
Researchers found that while both men and women initially report greater marital satisfaction with a significantly younger spouse, this satisfaction may soon dwindle.
Study authors Wang-Sheng Lee, of the Department of Economics at Deakin University in Australia, and Terra McKinnish, of the Department of Economics at the University of Colorado in Denver, recently published their results in the Journal of Population Economics.
As per a 2013 report from the United States Census Bureau, around 10 percent of heterosexual couples and 21 percent of same-sex couples in the U.S. have a partner who is at least 10 years older.
Talking to Medical News Today, Lee said that there has been little research conducted on how large age gaps between married couples influence marital satisfaction.
He said, “When we found a longitudinal data set that allowed us to examine the evolution of marital satisfaction over time for both men and women in the same marriage, we thought it would be very interesting to do the analysis to see what we find.”
The team’s findings came from an analysis of 19,914 individuals from more than 7,600 households in Australia, all of whom completed the Household, Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia survey.
The researchers analyzed 13 years of data from married couples, assessing how age gaps between spouses affected their marital satisfaction over time.
In the early years of marriage, the data revealed that men with younger spouses reported greater marital satisfaction, while marital satisfaction was lower for men with older spouses.
“We were not very surprised to find men being more satisfied with younger wives, given the popular ‘half your age plus seven’ rule that often comes up in male conversation,” Lee told MNT.
However, the researchers say that they were surprised to find that women also reported greater marital satisfaction with younger spouses in the early years of marriage, compared with women whose spouses were older.
Lee said, “This is contrary to what previous studies using data on preferences from speed dating studies have found. However, with more gender equality and ‘toyboy’ relationships on the increase since the 1980s, this was also not completely unexpected. It is just that women have been strategic and not been more explicit in stating their preferences.”
On further analysis, however, the researchers found that the greater marital satisfaction among couples with a large age gap is short-lived.
The study revealed that the higher levels of marital satisfaction experienced by spouses with younger partners were almost completely eradicated within 6 to 10 years of getting married.
Lee noted that previous studies have indicated that differently aged married couples are more likely to divorce than couples of a similar age, so they were not necessarily surprised by the finding itself.
However, Lee told us that the team was surprised to find just how fast a marriage can start to decline among couples with larger age gaps.
The researchers suggest that negative economic factors, such as job loss, may help to explain their results.
“Similarly aged couples are likely to be more resilient to shocks because they are more in sync on life decisions that affect both partners,” Lee explained to MNT. “Couples at similar life stages are more likely to discuss financial issues and financial plans for the future.
“The data also suggest that couples with a larger age gap are less likely to have both partners working and this could make them financially more vulnerable,” he added.
The researchers currently have no plans to expand on their findings, but Lee said that in the future, they might consider studying how certain life events influence marital satisfaction over time.
“Several theoretical models in the economics of the family assume that marital satisfaction can be redistributed within the couple,” said Lee.
“For example, if one member is now experiencing negative ‘surplus’ but the other member has positive ‘surplus,’ the second spouse should redistribute part of the ‘surplus’ to maintain the marriage. We are not sure how well this reflects real relationships.”