The bigger the age gap the bigger the letdown, study finds

Research shows both sexes are initially more satisfied with younger spouses but that this doesn’t last, and that large age differentials cause bigger problems over time

It’s not uncommon to see married couples with a significant age gap. But new research suggests that early in the marriage men and women both report greater marital satisfaction with younger spouses – but that satisfaction fades over time.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder examined 13 years’ worth of data from thousands of Australian households.

“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,” says Terra McKinnish, a professor of economics at the university and a co-author of the study.

“Women actually are also particularly dissatisfied when they’re married to older husbands and particularly satisfied if they’re married to younger husbands.”

She added that looking at marriages over time, people who are married to much older or younger spouses tend to have larger declines in marital satisfaction compared to those who are married to spouses who are similar in age.

Couples with a large age gap usually see a decline in satisfaction after six to 10 years of marriage.

When financial troubles are added to the age-gap equation, things can go south pretty fast.

“When couples have a large age difference, then 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,” says McKinnish.

A possible explanation for this is that couples of a similar age are more in sync on decisions that affect them both, such as having children or their spending habits, she says. This would better equip them to adjust to a negative financial shock such as a job loss.

Such a sudden shake-up could expose underlying tensions and mismatches in couples with a larger age gap.

The report was recently published online in the Journal of Population Economics. Its findings are based on data from the “Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey” that began in 2001 with an initial sample of 7,682 households with 19,914 individuals.

Participants are resurveyed every year with questions that measure life satisfaction.

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