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Mind the gap: will it ruin your marriage?

According to researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, similarly-aged spouses tend to have happier marriages.

Since 2001, data from 7,682 Australian households has been collected using the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. Due to the length of the study and the sheer number of participants, data analysis has unearthed several distinct trends in marriage satisfaction over time.

As is somewhat expected, one of the initial findings was that men who are married to younger wives are generally the most satisfied – at least initially – and those married to older women are usually the least satisfied. Women are also particularly dissatisfied when married to an older husband and satisfied when married to a younger spouse. Indeed, the dice seem weighted in the favour of the elder spouse – no matter the gender.

However, according to the data, the initial satisfaction of having a younger spouse tends to wane after ambling along for six to ten years of marriage. “Over time, the people who are married to a much older or younger spouse tend to have larger declines in marital satisfaction over time compared to those who are married to spouses who are similar in age,” says Terra McKinnish, a professor of economics at the University of Colorado Boulder.

When the data was analysed, special attention was paid to when couples experienced financial shocks. “We found that when couples have a large age difference, 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,” noted McKinnish.

One of the proposed reasons for this decline in contentment is the fact that similarly-aged couples are more likely to be more ‘in-sync’ in terms of life decisions that affect both partners, such as having children or purchasing a house. Converse to this, it could be that any differences in opinion within a relationship with a large age gap could potentially be exposed in the event of a financial shake-up, resulting in a conflict of opinion.

Obviously, there are exceptions. Indeed, many couples have successfully bucked the trend. Brigitte, the wife of Emmanuel Macron the current President of France, is twenty-five years his senior, and the age gap between Donald Trump, US President, and his wife Melania is also twenty-five years.

Tabitha Watson

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