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Wednesday, 11 March 2015 15:41

The Bigger The Age Gap, The Shorter The Marriage

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Love may be blind, but crow’s feet may lead you all the way to divorce court. There are many early indications of what might cause a marriage to crumble before a couple walks down the aisle — and the age gap between partners is one of them. And according to data in a recent study of 3,000 people by Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon, professors in the Department of Economics at Emory University in Atlanta, it could be a considerable factor. Randal Olson, a fourth-year computer science graduate research assistant at Michigan State University, crunched the raw data from Emory and found that a larger age gap is related to a higher divorce rate.

A five-year age gap statistically means you’re 18 percent more likely to divorce (versus just 3 percent with a 1-year age difference), and that rate rises to 39 percent for a 10-year age difference and 95 percent for a 20-year age gap.

Partners from different generations may have different cultural reference points and values, and polar opposite tastes in music and film, and even friends, and also have different approaches to their sex life, says Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills psychotherapist and panelist on “Sex Box,” a forthcoming We TV relationship therapy show. “Sex drive goes up for women in middle age, but sexual function decreases for men.”

Other factors may play a role in a marriage’s longevity. Having your first child out of wedlock statistically means you’re 59 percent less likely to have a divorce than a couple with no children, but having a child during a marriage means you’re 76 percent less likely to split, Olson found.

But that could also mean happier couples have more children. You’re 43 percent more likely to divorce if you have different levels of education than a couple with the same level. But celebrating a 10-year wedding anniversary bodes well: You’re 43 percent less likely to divorce if you stay together two years, but you’re 94 percent less likely to divorce if you reach 10 years.

Not everyone buys these results, however.“Having children may postpone a divorce, but often it ends up bringing even more tension to a relationship and more to argue about, more costs, more demands on their time, which all lead to stress, which often leads to divorce,” says Randy Kessler, an Atlanta-based lawyer who wrote the book, “Divorce: Protect Yourself, Your Kids, and Your Future.” 

The high number of short marriages could be people remarrying and choosing the same type of partner. “It does not work for the same reasons the prior relationship did not work,” he adds. 

Others caution about confusing stability or longevity with happiness. Many marriages that appear stable to outside observers may just be an “empty shell” for couples who stay together for legal, religious, financial and/or child-rearing reasons, says Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.  

“So while having children with your spouse may be a factor that decreases the chances of divorce, it may be that a couple with kids chooses to stay together for the sake of the kids, despite the marriage having nothing else to it,” he adds.

Of course, the Emory University study provides possible indicators of divorce rather than actual reasons (correlation, not causation). “It could just be that the types of couples with those characteristics are the types of couples who are, on average, more likely to divorce for other reasons,” says Mialon. There are exceptions. British actress Joan Collins (81) married her theatrical producer husband, Percy Gibson, 32 years her junior, in 2000.

Asked by reporters if she was worried about their age difference, she replied, “If he dies, he dies.”

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