Couples with a wider age difference often raise eyebrows, however for many it’s just a number. According to studies, an age gap of over or more than ten years experiences social disapproval, lately though, both men and women are likely to prefer someone of their own age rather than being open to someone ten to fifteen years junior or senior of themselves.
All cultures demonstrate the age-gap phenomenon in couples even though across the world there are different variations regarding that. Non-Western countries have a larger average age gap than in Western countries.
For instance, about 30% of unions reflect a large age gap in some African countries.
Do couples with large age gaps experience poorer relationship outcomes or better as compared to couples of similar ages?
How many relationships have a wide age gap?
About 8% of all married heterosexual couples across Western countries can be classified as having a large age gap of about ten years or more. Such couples generally involve older men paired with younger women.
Only about 1% of different age couples involve an older woman inmate with a younger man.
However, evidence relating to same-sex couples suggests higher prevalence rates. About 25% of male-male and over 15% of female-female unions demonstrate a wide age gap.
What these trends convey us is that the majority of the population prefers partnership with someone of similar age as them. This mostly happens due to having social circles that generally involve peers of mutual ages and being attracted to individuals of your age.
Similarity is followed by many things, including personality, values and interests, life aims and goals and hurdles of life, as well as physical traits since age is a reflection of physical appearance.
Why doesn’t it matter to others then?
Many of the reasons suggested for large age-gap couples have been largely focused on explaining older men and younger women pairings.
Having good genes is indicated by a person’s attractiveness and vitality, or in easier words, a person’s sense of energy and also the extent to which they are considered as a good investment which is generally indicated by their status and resources along with their warmth and sense of trust.
Although both males and females place importance on a partner who is soothing and trustworthy, females are likely to place more importance on the status and resources of their desired partner.
This is mainly because, with being the child bearers, a woman’s investment is very high on their behalf, referring to the time and effort in child bearing and nurturing.
So they are more attuned to look for a partner who will invest resources into a relationship and family and share the burden fairly. But since it takes time to build and gather resources, men tend to acquire wealth later in life and hence are older by the time they have acquired enough to comfortably provide for others depending on them.
This might be able to explain why some women are likely to be attracted to older men.
In contrast, it’s evidently proven that men value attractiveness and vitality more than women do because, from an evolutionary stage, youth is considered as an indicator of fertility.
Since men cannot bear children, men are attracted to younger women to enhance the chances of being with someone who can provide and bear children for them for a relatively longer period.
But this explanation is limited as it still doesn’t explain why the reverse pairings occur when an older woman is attracted to a younger man, or why age gaps exist within uni-sex couples. Socio-cultural explanations might be able to provide insights regarding this.
With more women working nowadays, in higher positions with higher pays, they no longer have such urges to rely on men for resources, so fewer women tend to prioritize resources when searching for a mate.
As for same-sex couples, there are some suggestions that a lack of suitable age-similar mates which may bring more same-sex duos with large age gaps.
What impacts the relationship outcome for couples with age-gaps?
People assume that couples with age differences have much poorer relationship outcomes. But according to studies conducted, the relationship satisfaction reported by couples with age gaps is higher. Such couples have also reported greater trust and commitment and lower levels of insecurities and jealousy as compared to similar-age couples.
Over about 75% of couples where older men are partnered with younger women report satisfying romantic relationships.
A factor that might have influence on the relationship outcomes of such couples is their perceptions of social disgust and disapproval. Some people in age-gap couples fear that their family, friends and wider community might disapprove of their union, which decreases relationship commitment and increases the risks of break-up.
These effects appear to apply to both heterosexual and uni-sex couples. So the negative outcomes for age-gap couples are due to the pressures and judgments from the external world and not because of problems that reside within the couple.
Another factor that might influence a relationship can be the stage of life each partner is experiencing. For instance, a ten-year gap between a twenty year old and a thirty year old may bring up different issues, hurdles and challenges than for a decade gap between a 53 year old and a 63 year old.
This can be because our life is made up of different stages, and each stage involves particular life tasks that we need to master. So when each member of the couple straddles a different life stage, it may become difficult for a couple to reconcile one another’s differing needs and goals.
So does age really matters?
The success of a relationship depends mostly on the extent to which couples share similar goals, beliefs and values about life, support and help each other in achieving personal goals, construct commitment, trust and intimacy throughout the relationship and resolve problems in an effective way. These factors nonetheless have almost none or very little to do with age.