Men and women who have younger spouses are happier with their marriage, but this marital satisfaction fades over time in couples who have a significant age gap, a study has found.
The findings, which examined 13 years of data from thousands of households, also suggest that marriages with large age gaps are less resilient in the face of economic downturns relative to their similarly-aged counterparts.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the findings show that men reported greater marital satisfaction when paired with a younger spouse, especially in the early years of marriage. However, the reverse appears to be true as well.
"We find that men who are married to younger wives are the most satisfied, and men who are married to older wives are the least satisfied," said Terra McKinnish, a professor at University of Colorado Boulder in the US.
"Women are also particularly dissatisfied when they're married to older husbands and particularly satisfied if they're married to younger husbands," said McKinnish.
That initial satisfaction erodes rapidly, however, after 6-10 years of marriage for the couples with a big age gap between the partners.
"Over time, the people who are married to a much older or younger spouse tend to have larger declines in marital satisfaction over time compared to those who are married to spouses who are similar in age," said McKinnish.
One mechanism for this decline could be how the age difference between spouses affects the couple's ability to respond to negative economic shocks, such as a job loss, McKinnish said.
"We looked at how couples respond to negative shocks and in particular, if they have a major bad economic shock or worsening of their household finances," she said.
"We find that when couples have a large age difference, that they tend to have a much larger decline in marital satisfaction when faced with an economic shock than couples that have a very small age difference," she added.
A possible explanation for this is that similarly-aged couples are more in sync on life decisions that affect both partners (having children; general spending habits) and thus may be better equipped to adjust to a negative financial shock, McKinnish said.
By contrast, an unexpected financial shakeup could expose underlying tensions and mismatches in couples with a larger age gap.
The study was published in the Journal of Population Economics.
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