Marriage and Life Expectancy Span

Author: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Published: 2010/05/12 - Updated: 2022/08/03
Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Contents: Summary - Main - Related Publications

Synopsis: The downside of marriage for women as the greater a woman's age gap with her husband, the lower her life expectancy. While many studies on mate selection show that women mostly prefer men the same age, most of them end up with an older husband. In the United States, on average a groom is 2.3 years older than his bride. It's not that women couldn't find younger partners; the majority just don't want to. It is also doubtful that older wives benefit psychologically and socially from a younger husband.

Life Expectancy

Life expectancy is a statistical measure of the average time an organism is expected to live, based on the year of its birth, its current age, and other demographic factors like sex. The heritability of lifespan is estimated to be less than 10%, meaning the majority of lifespan variation is attributable to environmental differences rather than genetic variation. However, researchers have identified regions of the genome that can influence the length of life and the number of years in good health.

Main Digest

Marriage is more beneficial for men than women - at least for those who want a long life. Previous studies have shown that men with younger wives live longer. While it had long been assumed that women with younger husbands also live longer, in a new study Sven Drefahl from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, Germany, has shown that this is not the case. Instead, the more significant the age difference between the husband, the lower the wife's life expectancy. This is the case irrespective of whether the woman is younger or older than her spouse.

Related to life expectancy choosing a wife is easy for men - the younger, the better.

The mortality risk of a husband who is seven to nine years older than his wife is reduced by eleven percent compared to couples where both partners are the same age. Conversely, a man dies earlier when he is younger than his spouse.

Researchers have thought this data holds for both sexes for years. They assumed an effect called "health selection" was in play; those who select younger partners can do so because they are healthier and thus already have a higher life expectancy. It was also thought that a younger spouse has a positive psychological and social effect on an older partner and can be a better caretaker in old age, helping to extend the partner's life.

Continued below image.
Life expectancy age gap to spouse
Age Gap to Spouse - A woman's life expectancy is shorter the greater the age difference from her husband, irrespective of whether she is younger or older than him. However, the younger his wife, the longer a man lives. Women marrying a partner seven to nine years younger increase their mortality risk by 20 percent compared to couples where both partners are the same age. But the mortality risk of a husband who is seven to nine years older than his wife is reduced by eleven percent. (Source: Sven Drefahl)
Continued...

"These theories now have to be reconsidered", says Sven Drefahl from MPIDR. "It appears that the reasons for mortality differences due to the age gap of the spouses remain unclear."

Using data from almost two million Danish couples, Drefahl was able to eliminate the statistical shortcomings of earlier research and showed that the best choice for a woman is to marry a man of the same age; an older husband shortens her life, and a younger one, even more, so.

According to Drefahl's study, published May 12th in the journal Demography, women marrying a partner seven to nine years younger increase their mortality risk by 20 percent. Hence, "health selection" can't be true for women; healthy women don't go chasing after younger men. While many studies on mate selection show that women mostly prefer men the same age, most of them end up with an older husband. In the United States, on average, a groom is 2.3 years older than his bride. (see figure 2).

"It's not that women couldn't find younger partners; the majority just don't want to", says Sven Drefahl. "It is also doubtful that older wives benefit psychologically and socially from a younger husband."

This effect only seems to work for men. "On average, men have fewer and lesser quality social contacts than those of women," says Sven Drefahl. Thus, unlike the benefits of a younger wife, a younger husband wouldn't help extend the life of his older wife by taking care of her, going for a walk with her, and enjoying late life together. She already has friends for that. The older man, however, doesn't.

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Age at Marriage in the USA chart
Age at Marriage in the USA - Young wives wanted: in the United States a groom is 2.3 years older than his bride (average from 1947 to 2009). The mean age of marriage fell until World War II and has been rising ever since. In 2009 it was 28.1 years for men and 25.9 years for women. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)
Continued...

Women don't benefit from having a younger partner, but why does he shorten their lives?

"One of the few possible explanations is that couples with younger husbands violate social norms and thus suffer from social sanctions," says Sven Drefahl.

Since marrying a younger husband deviates from what is normal, these couples could be regarded as outsiders and receive less social support. This could result in a less joyful and stressful life, reduced health, and increased mortality.

While the new MPIDR study shows that marriage disadvantages most women when they are not the same age as their husbands, it is not true that marriage, in general, is unfavorable. Being married raises the life expectancy of both men and women above those unmarried. Women are also generally better off than men; worldwide, their life expectancy exceeds that of men by a few years.

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock (MPIDR) investigates the structure and dynamics of populations. It focuses on issues of political relevance such as demographic change, aging, fertility, the redistribution of work throughout life, and aspects of evolutionary biology and medicine. The MPIDR is one of Europe's largest demographic research bodies and one of the worldwide leaders in the field. It is part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German Research Society.

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Attribution/Source(s):

This peer reviewed publication pertaining to our Offbeat News section was selected for circulation by the editors of Disabled World due to its likely interest to our disability community readers. Though the content may have been edited for style, clarity, or length, the article "Marriage and Life Expectancy Span" was originally written by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, and submitted for publishing on 2010/05/12 (Edit Update: 2022/08/03). Should you require further information or clarification, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft can be contacted at demogr.mpg.de. Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith.

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