While the average age difference in marriage is three to five years, trends indicate that men and women choose to marry older or younger mates (as much as fifteen to twenty years) based on personal needs. Some considerations for choosing a mate based on chronological age include: the ability to bear offspring, socioeconomic status, and sexual and emotional compatibility. Older men may prefer females as much as twenty years their junior if childbearing is a concern. Conversely, a twenty-five to forty-year-old female may seek to settle down with someone closer to sixty or seventy if the objective is to become financially secure. Regardless of birth year, most couples hope to marry someone with common interests in a mutually fulfilling emotional relationship. There are advantages and disadvantages to marrying above, below, or at the average age difference in marriage; and several factors will determine whether the union will likely succeed or end in separation or divorce.
When the average age difference in marriage is only a few years, husbands and wives tend to have more in common and share the same belief system, simply because they grew up in the same generation. Two baby-boomers, adults born during a large increase in birthrate after World War II, may share similar childhood and adolescent experiences which could pave the way for greater marital harmony. Boomers may have grown up in a two-parent household with a stay-at-home mom, as the societal trend in the late 40s and 50s favored the traditional family unit. Youngsters from that generation also were exposed to more conservative values with a clear cut line of demarcation between genders and the roles played. Today, post-World War II couples are no longer concerned with child bearing and most are experiencing the "empty nest" syndrome. Because of emotional, psychological, and socioeconomic compatibility at this stage in life, husbands and wives closer in age may cope better with the adverse impacts of aging like menopause, chronic fatigue, or sexual dysfunction, which could otherwise derail a long-term relationship. The relative compatibility between couples with an average age difference in marriage of three to five years could be crucial to marital happiness in spite of the adversities of growing old.
Elderly men who prefer women well below the average age difference in marriage-- as much as fifteen to twenty years their junior-- are quite possibly looking for a wife who can bear children or offer a second chance at the fountain of youth. Men whose birth year closely matched their first wives but who became widowed or divorced may have a tendency to choose younger women the second time around. Some are wary of growing old and dying, and many reason that a much more youthful female will provide the opportunity to enjoy a more sexually fulfilling union without the fear of becoming a widower again. The young trophy wife is sometimes proof that an older man still has the virility to capture the affection of a female half his age; and that alone may be the impetus to live longer! But a December-May marriage may present problems for both the younger female and the elderly male. Some men are vigorous enough to father children up until the age of 70 or eighty; but a 25-year-old wife might not want her figure marred by pregnancy.
Couples with a higher average age difference in marriage should carefully examine the pros and cons before saying I do. Twenty years presents a huge generation gap that could result in poor communication and compatibility, even though the relationship is sexually fulfilling and the husband more financially secure. But as an elderly husband ages, his much more youthful wife may need to be prepared not only for long term health care, possibly acute, but also a gradually decreasing ability to perform. Unless she is looking for a father figure, a long term union may not suffice.
Similarly, when older women marry men fifteen or twenty years younger, a greater discrepancy in average age difference in marriage can present a serious concern. Occasionally called "cougars," these older post-menopausal females may be looking for a final fling with a man who doesn't mind a wrinkle or two. Much like the older male counterparts, many elderly women are widowed or divorced and enjoy the attention of younger men. They are often lonely and have grown tired of appearing in public or at special events solo or with the girls. "Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth" (I Timothy 5:5-6). The disadvantage is that the greater the disparity in age, the more likely the union will be short-lived. A youthful male may not be content for very long with the affections of a woman old enough to be his mother, unless a mother figure suits him. Because women outnumber men three to one, the odds of a decidedly younger husband remaining faithful to a much older wife are slim. The Bible admonishes widows to find contentment in serving God after the pleasure of marriage has ended.
In the final analysis, men and women--regardless of the average age difference in marriage-- should choose a mate not based on physical appearance, financial stability or fleeting affection, but on genuine love. While statistics indicate the greater the difference in age, the more likely the marriage will end in separation or divorce; only a husband and wife can make the necessary adjustments to make the union last. Having similar interests, sharing a common faith and belief system, possessing the ability to communicate, and enjoying a mutually satisfying intimate relationship are all factors that make marriage successful--regardless of age.