Is your wife killing you?

The age of your wife may take years off your life.

Since 1688, the age of women getting married has risen slightly, while men are marrying at a slightly younger age. Much of this is due to changing social attitudes and the introduction of age of consent laws. Overall, this has led to a gradual reduction in the age difference between spouses.

A couple of studies have looked at the life expectancy of a husband as it relates to the age of his wife. It seems that men with younger wives live longer than men with older wives. the older the man is, the more this relationship holds true.

It is not linear, however – a really young wife will not ensure that you live to a ripe old age. The effects will even reverse if your wife is more than 25 years your junior. It has been theorised that with very large age differences, social disapproval can take away any potential benefits.

The jury is out on marriage to an older woman, with one study showing longevity benefits over husbands with wives the same age as themselves. The other study shows reduced life expectancy.

For women, younger husbands are also better. Women married to a younger man (up to 14 years her junior) live longer than those married to an older or same-aged husband.

Why would this be the case? One theory is that, just as spouses are supposed to grow to look like each other, they start to age like the other, averaging the biological age between the spouses. Perhaps the younger spouse helps to keep the older more physically and mentally active. There could be social or psychological benefits to having a younger spouse – perhaps an attractive young thing on your arm at office parties is more likely to get you promoted, for example.

But looking at statistics can confuse cause and effect. Perhaps marrying a younger person won’t keep you alive longer. Maybe you are just more likely to attract a younger spouse if you are biologically young, or very healthy. Certainly most people won’t marry an older person if they look like they’re going to die suddenly (unless they are very wealthy).

So don’t rush out for a younger model yet. At least read tomorrow’s post first…

References

Foster D, Klinger-Vartabedian L, Wispe L.(1984) Male longevity and age differences between spouses. J Gerontol. 39(1):117-20.

Kemkes-Grottenthaler A. (2004) “For better or worse, till death us do part” – spousal age gap and differential longevity: evidence from historical demography. Coll Antropol. 28 Suppl 2:203-19

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1 Comment

Filed under Curious Science, Science

One response to “Is your wife killing you?

  1. Your other half told me about your blog and I thought I’d take a look. You write very well and have a journalist’s instinct for headlines so it’s no wonder you’re getting the radio gigs.

    I won’t worry too much about this age difference thing – it seems a young husband is good for women and a young wife is good for men (I imagine it’s something to do with staying physically and mentally active because your partner is). Since my boyfriend and I are the same age (two months apart) I guess we’ve got the fairest possible outcome.

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