Women's health * 50+ health * Healthy living * Sexual health

Toy boys shown to be deadly to women

women and younger husbands Younger husbands reduce life expectancy

Studies have shown that men with younger wives live longer, but now a new report suggests that for women the opposite is true – taking a younger husband can reduce a woman’s life expectancy. Bad news for Demi Moore and other so-called 'cougars'!

A man can reduce his risk of death by around 11 percent by marrying a woman seven to nine years younger. But if he marries an older woman his life expectancy is reduced. Researchers have until now assumed that this held true for women also – that marrying a younger husband will add to a woman’s life expectancy.

This effect has been explained by a theory know as "health selection" – that those men and women who are most attractive and healthiest, and therefore more likely to live longer, are able to attract younger partners.

But the new study shows that in fact for women the reverse is true – the greater the age difference between a woman and her husband the lower is her life expectancy. And this is true for women whose husbands are either older or younger than them.

The study leader, Sven Drefahl, says that we need to reconsider the old theory in the light of these results. “It appears that the reasons for mortality differences due to the age gap of the spouses remain unclear."

The study looked at over 2 million couples in Denmark. It found that women marrying a partner seven to nine years younger increase their mortality risk by 20 percent. While many studies on mate selection show that women mostly prefer men the same age, most of them end up with an older husband. In the United States, on average a groom is 2.3 years older than his bride.

While the study shows that marriage disadvantages most women when they are not the same age as their husband, it is not true that marriage in general is unfavourable. Being married raises the life expectancy of both men and women above those that are unmarried. Women are also generally better off than men; worldwide their life expectancy exceeds that of men by a few years.

So the message is clear. Getting married is good for your health, but men should marry younger women and women should marry men who are the same age – if increasing your life chances is the basis for choosing a mate.

The study was carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany and published in the journal Demography.

This article was published on Fri 14 May 2010

Image © Karen Grigoryan - Fotolia.com

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