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Are age gaps bad for women?

18th May 2010

Women who marry men up to nine years younger can increase their risk of dying early by up to 20%, according to a recent German study.

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The researchers also found that marrying an older man shortens a woman's lifespan.

However, while they came up with reasons why marrying a younger man could shorten a woman's life, they were not able to explain why marrying an older man had a similar effect, nor why men who married older women also had a risk of dying younger than average.

Sven Drefahl, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, said that the best choice for a woman was to marry a man who was exactly the same age as her.

He said that he believed violating social norms was bad for a woman's health.

Ian Kerner, a sex and relationships counsellor, said that people should focus on their sex lives as a sign the healthfulness of their relationships.

He said that, if people were having sex, it was generally a sign of health, since a healthy sex life could only be supported by a healthy lifestyle.

Drefahl said that he was baffled by people's initial reaction to his team's study, and that the number of 'cougar marriage' cases in his team's data was actually very few.

He said that he believed that studying why women who were with older men also seemed to die sooner than women who were with men their own age deserved more attention.

For the study, the German researchers analysed birth and death records belonging to about two million men and women.

The term 'early death' as used by the researchers is perhaps a misnomer, because it does not relate to chronology.

Instead, all of the study results were compared with the average lifespan of a woman married to a man her own age, so that anything verging even slightly from the researchers' ideal age was termed 'early death' or 'prolonged life.'

The researchers said that, compared to a woman who marries a man her own age, a woman who marries a man 15 years younger is 30% more likely to die early, and a woman who marries a man nine years younger is 20% more likely to die early.

Sandor Gardos, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist, said that she would not begin warning women against dating younger men as a result of the study.

She said that women who met someone who was compatible with them should stay with that person, and that women who dated younger men should also ask themselves if they were trying to prove something, or if they were ready to admit how old they were.

In recent years, the idea of a 'cougar craze' became popular because of television shows and movies that focused on the subject, as well as several celebrity marriages between older women and younger men.

Gardos said that the she did not see a clear link between dying early and marrying someone younger, but thought unhealthy habits typical of a 'cougar lifestyle' might be to blame.

 

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