A young, attractive spouse won’t make you happy in the long run, according to a new study. Researchers found that the thrill of a wide age gap tends to wear off within a decade, leaving mismatched couples unprepared for marital bliss. The perfect fling might be half your age — but the perfect life partner probably is not.
“Marital satisfaction declines more rapidly over time for both men and women who have large age gaps with their spouses, compared to those with small age gaps,” says study co-author Terra McKinnish, Ph.D., a professor of economics at the University of Colorado Boulder. “This decline in satisfaction erases those initial higher levels of satisfaction at the beginning of marriage for men and women with younger spouses.”
Easy come, easy go. Besides, prior studies suggest that desire for a much younger partner is largely a guy thing. In 2001, for instance, Dutch social scientists asked men and women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s what they considered the ideal age for a long-term partner, and a casual fling. Both women and men preferred age-appropriate spouses, but men alone opted for significantly younger suitors when it came to brief affairs.
For this new study, McKinnish and colleagues analyzed 13 years of data from 8,682 households in Australia. They found that men and women with younger partners were the most satisfied with their marriages initially, and both men and women with older spouses were least satisfied. Unfortunately, these satisfied men and women with younger spouses have nowhere to go but down. After their marriages reached the six-to-10-year mark, larger age gaps saw a much sharper decline in satisfaction — especially when there was money trouble.
“It is likely that such couples with age gaps are more vulnerable to economic shocks, as they have relatively lower household income compared to similarly-aged couples, and are also more likely to be single income households,” co-author on the study Wang Sheng Lee of Deakin University in Australia told Fatherly.
As for the precise age gap for marital bliss, Lee and McKinnish are unsure. A previous study indicates that the sweet spot may be around one year. Couples one year apart had a 3% chance of splitting, researchers found, compared to 18% for couples five years apart, 39% for 10, and 95% for 20.
Still, these numbers represent averages and trends, not predictors of marital success. “If one is conservative and believes in statistics on averages as a guide, then having a smaller age gap makes it more likely one will not experience drops in marital satisfaction,” Lee says. But “there will always be exceptions to the norm.”
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