Look no further than typing “does age” into google’s search bar to get the autocomplete for the most searched question regarding age: “does age matter in a relationship?”
It’s a tried and tested topic, with countless resources and retellings of personal successes, and failures – and we’ve got our own particular view on the matter as a couple with an age difference of 10 years.
What the literature says
Do we approve, or disapprove?
For the most part – and lets also ignore the “Hollywood” effect here, with its own little world that can skew reality – google kicks back a lot of positivity and societal acceptance towards age differences, with plenty of anecdotal testimony.
But the studies conflict.
Apparently, we tend to frown upon couples with 10+ years difference.
But when it comes to our own relationships, we are still open to age differences of 10-15 years.
A 2011 study by Kendrick and Keefe from Cambridge University really drives home this point, where they solidified the finding that “women are attracted to men older than themselves whereas men are attracted to relatively younger women”, and suggests “that males and females follow different reproductive strategies, and predicts a more complex relationship between gender and age preferences.
In particular, males’ preferences for relatively younger females should be minimal during early mating years, but should become more pronounced as the male gets older. Young females are expected to prefer somewhat older males during their early years and to change less as they age.
So while people tend to look for people similar in age when dating, they are still open to the idea of age difference dating/relationships.
Culture and world views
Of course, culture and where you are in the world plays a big part in accepting this, though while there is variation across cultures in the size of the difference in age-gap couples, all cultures demonstrate the age gap phenomenon.
Across Western countries, about eight per cent of all married heterosexual couples can be classified as having a large age gap (10 years or more). These generally involve older men partnered with younger women.
A December 2016 study from the U.N. comparing data from 1970-1999 with 2000-2014 shows that the overall “sex gap” worldwide has remained at about three years – but this gap is widening in Asia (see the 2.9 to 3.1 in chart below).
Further, where women marry young on average, like Africa and Asia, the difference between men and women in age tends to be larger.
About one per cent of age gap couples involve an older woman partnered with a younger man, and while there are significantly fewer studies on same-sex couples, there are many anecdotal success stories here.
Why the significant age gaps?
There are the obvious reasons in speculating what men and women tend to look for – for women, the stability and resources providing that a successful man can bring, which often will correlate with a man in his later stages.
And for men, it can be a combination of healthiness, fertility, and energy associated with youth.
How successful are age gap relationships?
There are studies that report that age-gap relationships are more successful due to higher levels of satisfaction, trust and commitment, and lower jealousy.
The following is an excerpt from author Gery Karantzas, Associate Professor in Social Psychology / Relationship Science, Deakin University (whom I’ve sourced for much of this article):
A factor that does impact on the relationship outcomes of age gap couples is their perceptions of social disapproval. That is, if people in age-gap couples believe their family, friends and wider community disapprove of their union, then relationship commitment decreases and the risk of break-up increases.
Another factor at play may have to do with the stage of life each partner is experiencing. For instance, a ten-year gap between a 20-year-old and a 30-year-old may bring up different challenges and issues than for a ten-year gap where one partner is 53 and the other is 63.
This is because our lives are made up of different stages, and each stage consists of particular life tasks we need to master. And we give priority to the mastery of different tasks during these distinct stages of our lives. So when each member of a couple straddles a different life stage, it may be difficult for the couple to reconcile each other’s differing life needs and goals.
The success of a relationship depends on the extent to which partners share similar values, beliefs and goals about their relationship; support each other in achieving personal goals; foster relationship commitment, trust and intimacy; and resolve problems in constructive ways. These factors have little do with age.
So the reality is, while an age gap may bring about some challenges for couples, so long as couples work at their relationship, age should be no barrier.
Our own views – hear it from us at Pair Shaped
So let’s get to it – the Pair Shaped team tackles the topic of age gap relationships with their own 10 year age difference.
Do you feel that people have judged you and you’ve been influenced by societal norms?
Yes, societal norms play a factor for people in age gap relationships, but I personally haven’t seen it too much. I think I can count the two times it came up and people expressed a momentary shock.
I agree that we don’t see much judgement when people realise our age gap, but interestingly I wonder if this might be different if the age gap was the other way around (i.e. older woman)?
But those times it came up – can you explain how it came up, and how you dealt with it?
Once with extended family, visiting from abroad for our wedding – they have very inquisitive and outspoken children, cousins of Alex, and are about 20 years her junior. They see her as I guess someone who babysat them? And they were commenting on how this person in their life is marrying someone who is around the same age as their parents.
I think it’s important to not overplay it, but make it known that what’s more important is finding the right partner, and if that person should be a certain age, so what?
It usually comes up in the context of Elliot looking much younger than he is, so the comment is usually wondering how he doesn’t age!
I don’t think its something I’ve ever really had to explain or think about too much: we get on well together and honestly I don’t think we would have ever got together if Elliot was the same age as me!
Why do you think you haven’t seen it much in your own experience?
Honestly, I think it’s because we both have successful careers and we both are so compatible that people don’t see that level of co-dependence that gets associated with age-gap relationships?
Also, I’m Asian and I often get mistaken for looking far younger than I am?
I think we haven’t seen it much as we have a similar level of maturity: I’m often described as an “old soul”, so maybe we balance each other out.
But also I agree with Elliot – he definitely looks younger than his years!
How did you first know about the age gap, and how did you feel when you first started dating?
It was known from the start for me, just by design. We met when Alex joined as part of the grad programme in the office I was working at several months after I had joined, so I was vaguely aware of an age difference.
But honestly, it never even mattered until we started hanging out more and even then, I hadn’t really considered it until after we had started dating. It was then, still in the early stages of our dating, when I figured we were going to be seeing each other, that I thought it important to tell her.
I think there was definitely a moment when I wondered how she would take it – so there’s societal norms coming into play there. But it was a very brief moment.
For me, the age difference really didn’t matter because we were turning out to be so compatible. Maybe because I was in the older position?
When we first started becoming friends I think I knew there was a bit of an age gap, but I honestly didn’t think that much about it. We had become really close friends over the course of a year or so, and as I got to know him I just didn’t see the age gap being a thing.
Once we started dating and he told me the age gap I was a little surprised, but I can honestly say it wasn’t something that bothered me at all.
Does it actually matter?
No, it really doesn’t.
But I really must stress that this really depends on the kind of people in the relationship.
For me, Alex has always had a high level of maturity – sometimes more mature than me! I think as I’ve gotten older I have also developed a healthy level of silliness.
Perhaps the only concern I have is when we have children, and how active I’ll be able to be. Although if I’m being honest, staying fit is one of my passions, so I’m not really that concerned that I won’t be able to later in life.
If it’s purely a case of the number, then no I don’t think it matters at all.
What is more important is making sure you are aligned on the things that matter. Do you want the same things out of life? Are you both a similar level of maturity? Do you have the same morals and values?
What’s it take to make an age gap relationship work?
Sometimes, being the older one in an age gap relationship can have some adverse effects when we disagree. Not often, but every once in a while I wonder if her not having as much life experience as me means that she doesn’t have as much perspective. I think it’s important to not entertain these ideas too much, and certainly important to have our disagreement without age or perceived experience coming into it.
Similar levels of maturity and life stages definitely help – we seem to want the same milestones similarly (like children, a house, etc.)
I honestly have never really considered our age gap as being a factor that we have to consider what makes our relationship work.
The things that make our relationship work are probably the same as any relationship regardless of age gap: good communication, having fun and sharing the same goals and dreams.