Study: Your spouse is more likely to divorce you if you are the older partner

Your spouse is more likely to divorce you if you are the older partner, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

It is thought that a fundamental principle for successful marriage is that partners share beliefs on almost any characteristic including race, level of education, social class and religion. Couples that share a similar background will get along better because they have common values, lifestyles and social networks. Therefore, it can be expected that a difference in age between a husband and wife in either direction will increase the likelihood of divorce.

The theory of ageism states that a person has less value when they are older. When ageism is applied to relationships it means that the older partner is valued less, making the younger partner more likely to leave them. This theory can be viewed in gender neutral terms, meaning a younger man or woman is more likely to terminate the marriage than their older counterpart. However, it is arguable that society places more importance on the physical attractiveness of women compared to men.  This is derived from the evolutionary benefit of youthful looks as an indicator of fertility in women, which makes it more likely that men will terminate the marriage if they have wives older than themselves.

The study conducted by Paula England (New York University), Paul Allinson (University of Pennsylvania) and Liana Sayer (University of Maryland College Park) used data from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) which followed a total of 3,622 couples that had divorced and asked which partner had initiated the divorce. The study also focused on whether having an older partner affected men’s divorce decisions differently to women’s. The data was collected from American couples where the norm is that the husband is on average two years older than their wife.

Contrary to previous thinking, the results showed that the age difference between partners affects the likelihood of divorce equally for men and women. It was also found that the younger partner tends to be the one who initiates the divorce. Women are more likely to leave their husbands if they are three years younger compared to if they are three years older than their partner. Husbands were 50% less likely to initiate the divorce if their wife was three years younger.

The overall result shows that an individual’s relative age in the marriage can affect the way they experience the relationship breakdown.