Is age really just a number?

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When it comes to relationships with a big age-gap, apparently it is not. Studies showed that couples with an age difference of more than 10 years experience a lot of social disapproval. Although this phenomenon is of all times and can be found in all cultures, these relationships often raise eyebrows and become fodder for gossip and conversation. Why is that? Suryani tries to find out why a lot of people are feeling so strongly about this.

Evolution or not?

The majority of the population is likely to have a partner of a similar age. This has a lot to do with having social circles that generally include peers of similar age who also have more or less the same values and interests, life goals, and who are in the same stage of life. 

However, to a minority, age isn’t a factor they consider to be important when engaging in a new relationship. Across Western countries, about 8 % of all married heterosexual couples are in a large age-gap relationship. The majority of those couples are older men who have a relationship with a younger woman.  With same-sex couples, the rates are higher. 25 % of all male-male pairings and 15 % of female-female pairings can be classified as having a big age-gap.  How come they don’t seem to matter about age?

Some think that the explanation is based on evolution and that men instinctively choose a younger partner as youth is seen as an indicator of fertility. Women, on the other hand, would be attracted to older men. This because they offer more financial security and wealth so that he can provide for his family.

Sounds very old-fashioned, right? So maybe love is just simply unpredictable and works in mysterious ways. Because evolution can’t explain why women would choose to have a relationship with a younger man. This probably has a more socio-cultural explanation. Since women are working more and more in higher positions and are earning more, they no longer have to rely on men for resources. So this will not be a priority anymore when looking for a partner. 

Also for same-age couples, these explanations don’t add up. Unfortunately, there’s not much research on that so it’s anyone’s guess as to why this occurs at an even higher rate than with heterosexuals.

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

Negative perception

Whatever the explanation may be, it is a fact that there is still a lot of misunderstanding. Although society seems to be more tolerant of older men-younger women pairings than the other way around, many outsiders still find age-gap inappropriate and questionable.

In 2018, researchers from Oakland University found out that people automatically look at age-gap relationships with suspicion. Thiis because they believe that an element of exploitation is always present, especially when the older partner is a man. People make assumptions that these relationships involve some form of ‘trade-off- e.g. sex in exchange for a certain lifestyle. 

While men and women were equally negative towards age-gap couples, surprisingly, younger people are more critical than older people. One would think they would be more open to different types of relationships. Maybe it’s because, in a large age-gap relationship, the younger person is often portraited more negatively than the older person and so they have more to lose, reputation wise. They are accused of ‘exploiting’ the older person and often are being referred to as ‘gold digger’.

Happily ever after or..?

Is this really a  reflection of reality and are the assumptions correct? A study of the University of Colorado found that both men and women experienced greater relationship satisfaction with younger spouses, especially in the early years of marriage. They seem to report greater trust and commitment and lower jealousy than same-age couples. However, this higher level of satisfaction only lasts a few years. Within 6 to 10 years the effect would wear off.

Data of the study also revealed that there was a correlation between age differences and the chance of splitting up. Couples with ages within 1 year of each other, only have a 3% chance of splitting up.  Partners who differ 5 years in age are 18% more likely to split up.

Couples with a 10-year gap have a 39% chance and the chance of splitting up for couples with a 20-year gap is a staggering 95%!

There are a few factors that can influence this. First one is the perception of the level of social disapproval. If people in a age-gap relationship  believe that their family and friends and even wider community disapprove of them, then their relation commitment decreases and the chance of breaking up increases. This seems only normal. Even for same-age couples, that for whatever which reason, don’t get the approval of for example their parents, this would be a very big abstacle to overcome.

Another factor is the age range of both partners. A 10-year gap will raise totally different issues between a man and a woman who are respectively 20 and 30 than a couple where one partner is 63 and the other one is 53. In every stage of our life we are focussed on more or less the same things so it can be challenging if both partners are in a different stage of life. An issue that may occur is whether to have children or not. While one partner really wants this, the other one may already have children and might have a ‘been there, done that’ attitude.

Conclusion

So does age matter or not? I guess that’s up to everyone to decide for themselves but I wouldn’t let a large age-gap hold you back in starting a relationship with someone. 

More important is that both partners share the same values and beliefs, support each other in achieving personal goals and just are willing to invest in and to work on their relationship. This will lead to a successful relationship and has nothing to do with age.

Is your partner a lot older or younger than you or do you know a large age-gap couple? How do you feel about this? Let us know!

This article has been written by @SURYANI SIX

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