Marrying younger men increases women`s mortality rates

Last Updated: Thursday, May 13, 2010 - 00:00

Washington: The greater the age difference from the husband, the lower the wife’s life expectancy is.

That’s the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Demography.

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 the new study Sven Drefahl from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, Germany, has shown that this is not the case.

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.

For years, researchers have thought that this data holds true for both sexes. They assumed an effect called "health selection" was in play; those who select younger partners are able to 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, thereby helping to extend the partner’s life.

"These theories now have to be reconsidered", says 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 exactly the same age; an older husband shortens her life, and a younger one even more so.


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First Published: Thursday, May 13, 2010 - 00:00

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