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The long & short of marriage: older women who marry younger men die early

Catch Team | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:51 IST

Young women who marry older men not only add spice to their spouses' lives - but also their age. But unfortunately, the reverse is not true. Marrying a younger spouse does little to a woman's lifespan.

In fact, it shortens it.

On top of that, women have been raised for generations on the preposterous belief that loneliness kills them. And women, especially those who are considered to be over the hill, have often fallen for this trap and agreed to marry much older men.

Also read - The mad new world of arranged marriages in India

However, research now shows a marriage does not necessarily prolong a woman's life. And reports of single women dying young are exaggerated.

The age gap & survival

Women being the older spouse in their marriage is hardly uncommon in a world that is becoming increasingly accepting of couples with various sexual orientations.

The answer to a long life apparently lies not quite in age alone - but also in money and brains. And a caring companion.

German demographer Sven Drefahl studied Denmark's population and wrote a paper on marital age gaps and longevity. Drefahl chose Denmark because it is possibly the first country in the world that has been computerising data since 1968.

Drefahl's study on "How does the age gap between partners affect their survival" uses hazard regression methods to examine how the age difference between spouses affects their survival.

He points out that previous studies of the age gap between spouses with respect to mortality found that having a younger spouse is beneficial, while having an older spouse is detrimental for one's own survival.

With the new technique Drefahl concluded that the most common explanation that determines a longer life is caregiving, and some positive psychological and sociological effects of having a younger spouse.

Unfortunately, women seldom seem to enjoy that benefit.

Older spouses & the ideal gap

Drefahl concluded that having a younger spouse is beneficial for men but detrimental for women.

However, having an older spouse is detrimental for both sexes.

The winners in the Danish data were the men with younger wives. Drefahl finds this odd because, theoretically, the benefits of being married to someone younger should apply to both sexes.

The Guardian analysed the Danish data to ascertain the reasons for prolonged lifespans or early deaths.

"Between 1990 and 2005, a Danish woman of 50 or above, married to a man about 16 years younger than her, was 40% more likely to die by the end of 2005 than a woman of her age in a same-age union.

"The same set of comparisons for a man of 50-plus gives the result that he was 4% less likely to die than a man of his age married to a woman of his age."

There is also a "flicker of black humour in Drefahl's study".

In the case of very wealthy older men, the husband is not 4% more likely to survive but 5% more likely to die!

Of course, the strategy then if one goes by Drefahl's model is - an old, rich man desirous of a long lifespan marrying a much younger woman and living happily ever after.

Meanwhile, women should play safe and marry men born within 12 months of their own birthdays - the now proven recipe for a happy long life.

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First published: 6 April 2016, 8:24 IST