a couple with a large age gap

Dating with a Difference in Age: Does it Really Matter?

Does a difference in age make a relationship different?

Well, it depends on whom you ask.

For most outsiders, relationships with significant age differences tend to raise eyebrows. However, for many couples, the fear of judgment isn’t enough to wane true love.

Amongst celebrities, age gap relationships are quite normalized. George and Amal Clooney, for example, share a 17 year age difference; Jay-Z is 12 years senior to his wife, Beyoncé; and Catherine Zeta-Jones is famously 25 years younger than her husband, Michael Douglas.

With so many examples of age-gap success stories, dating with a difference in age can’t be that bad, right?

Well, for most couples, dating with a significant difference in age can be tricky.

Want to know the age-gap impact on the quality and longevity of a relationship? Let’s break it down.

The numbers game

Is age really just a number?

For many couples, a few years’ difference is nothing out of the ordinary. Approximately 8.5 percent of the population is comprised of couples with an age gap ranging from 5 to 15 years.

If it seems like the age difference usually yields towards an older man with a younger woman, that’s because it’s true. Statistically, male partners take the lead in the age department. Only 1.3 percent of couples are composed of an older woman with a younger man.

Some theories make sense of this gendered phenomenon by looking back at our ancestors. The theory goes that, by the time the female partner reaches her prime reproductive years, she is naturally more attracted to a man who has accumulated the status and resources necessary to support a family. That takes some time.

Many studies show that singles tend to be generally open-minded about age differences when it comes to their own relationship preferences. At least, to a certain degree. However, it becomes much easier to pass judgment when it comes to other people’s relationships.

Research shows that society tends to object to couples with an obvious difference in age. Well-meaning or not, disapproval from friends and family members often causes age-gap couples to feel isolated and misunderstood.

Mind the Gap

At what point does an age difference become too different?

Most researchers agree that an "age gap" relationship is when one partner is at least 10 years older than the other.

According to one study, age-gap couples report higher levels of dissatisfaction within their relationship. The larger the age gap, the more likely the couple is to divorce. Often, breakups between these couples can be traced back to their age imbalance.

Does that mean age-gap relationships are doomed to fail? Definitively not. But, if you’re dating with a difference in age, you’ll likely face unique challenges that could be avoided by pursuing someone within your own generation.

Cultural differences

Couples born in different generations tend to have an equally as different frame of reference on reality. This goes for everything from world views to inside jokes.

The larger the age difference between two partners, the less likely it is that they will understand the nuances of each other’s generation. Things like pop culture references, life experiences, and hobbies are often distinct to one’s generation.

Younger partners might also have more progressive views about society, politics, and relationship values. They might consider older partner’s opinion’s to be too traditional or constricting.

While these things may seem like small differences, couples who cannot connect on a cultural level may find it harder to find common ground throughout their relationship.

Powertrip

They say time is money, and often that stays true when one partner is older in a relationship.

Along with life experience, older partners tend to have more financial means than younger partners.

At the beginning of a relationship, having a partner who can take care of you both financially and emotionally might feel great. Eventually, however, the relationship can turn into a dynamic that feels controlling to the other partner.

A gap in both wealth and age can create an exponential difference in power within a relationship. An older partner could use their financial superiority to exert control over a significantly younger spouse. This would cause tension in the relationship and make one partner experience the conflicting feelings of both dependency and resentment towards the other.

Sweetheart or sugar daddy?

One of the reasons relationship age differences remain such a cultural taboo is due to the “gold-digger” stereotype. These relationships are viewed as more transactional, with one partner seeking out the other more for their money than their love.

Cliche? Yes. But, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t really happen.

Some statistics point towards a disproportionate shift in older, wealthy married men to younger women. While it’s impossible to judge the motivations for each partner, it’s something worth thinking about before rushing into commitment with someone much younger.

Of course, not every relationship with a significant age difference is predatory. Sometimes, the worst exploitation can happen between peers. However, couples that share a big difference in age should keep an eye out for red flags.

Life stages

When it comes to planning for the future with your partner, it’s important that you two are on the same page. This becomes difficult if you two are in two completely different stages of your lives.

For example, a younger partner might be entering into a relationship with the expectation of getting married, having children, and starting a family with their partner. If their partner is significantly older, it’s possible that they’ve already experienced these things with a previous relationship, and not want to have more children or risk going through another divorce.

On the other hand, an older partner might want marriage and kids, but feel like their biological clock is ticking. Sensing that they are running out of time, they might unknowingly pressure their partner to commit or have children before they are ready.

The closer the better

Is any gap acceptable?

Studies show that the closer a couple is in age, the better. Couples who are within a three year age difference reported higher levels of satisfaction with their partners, and stayed together longer than those with a ten year gap or more.

Still considering an age-gap relationship? Ask yourself: Is this a long-term relationship? Do we share the same long-term goals? Do we agree about whether or not we want children? Do we have the support of our friends and family?

If you answered ‘no’ to one or more of these questions, the difference in age might just be the make or break factor in your relationship.