Men and women who are married to younger spouses report being really happy at first. However, that initial satisfaction fades over time as the age gap proves to be a hurdle in the relationship, a new study says.
That hurdle, researchers say, was most apparent in how couples faced economic downturn – those with big age gaps had difficulty managing compared to their similarly-aged counterparts.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, looked at 13 years’ worth of data from 19,914 Australian households.
From that data, researchers were able to conclude a few things.
First, men reported being happier when married to a young woman but not the other way around.
As for the women, the complete opposite was found.
“We find that men who are married to younger wives are the most satisfied, and men who are married to older wives are the least satisfied,” Terra McKinnish, co-author of the study, said in a statement. “Women are also particularly dissatisfied when they’re married to older husbands and particularly satisfied if they’re married to younger husbands.”
However, that initial satisfaction seems to decline after six to 10 years of marriage.
One possibility for the decline may be how the age difference between the two people impact their ability as a couple to react to economic downfalls, like losing a job, researchers say.
“We looked at how couples respond to negative shocks and in particular, if they have a major bad economic shock or worsening of their household finances,” McKinnish said. “We find that when couples have a large age difference, that they tend to have a much larger decline in marital satisfaction when faced with an economic shock than couples that have a very small age difference.”
McKinnish speculates that this may be because couples who are similar in age are “more in sync on life decisions” that affect both parties, like having kids, for example.
Relationship expert Shannon Tebb agrees with the study’s findings.
“I think the marriage can last up to six years but there are times where economic shocks, like job loss and mid-life crisis, can really cause a damper on a marriage,” she says. “If the age gap is too big, the couple is not able to survive those types of downfalls. They’re also going through different stages in life.”
Besides economic road bumps, a person’s activity level and energy can also impact a marriage – and having that large age gap will make it more likely to be a problem, Tebb says.
“If a woman is 25 and the man is 50, they’re going to divorce earlier because maybe the man isn’t as active as he gets older,” she says. “The woman will want to do all these things but the man won’t be able to keep up. So such marriages are usually short-lived.”
Expectations may also be different, Tebb explains.
“They’re more likely to have different life goals,” she says. “But with a couple who’s more similar in ages, they’re just more in sync with their life decisions. If that age gap is closer, you’re able to have that similar mindset.”
So what is the perfect age gap for a couple?
Tebb says no more than 5 years.
“I really believe age is just a number but when the gap is too big of a gap – no matter how great the beginning is, there’s always going to be factors that come into play that really show just how big that age gap really is,” says Tebb.