What is considered an acceptable age difference in marriage?
The answer depends on who you are – male or a female, and how you plan on getting married – marrying for love or arranged marriage.
If you are going through an arranged marriage, your ideal match is picked for you! Parents and siblings will make sure that the boy is at least of the same age or older by 2 years to 10 years.
Arranged marriages between an older bride and a younger groom are rare and usually never considered as a viable option.
When marrying for love, age is definitely not a factor. In most cases, love blossoms because of personal chemistry, compatible lifestyles or worldviews, shared dreams or goals. Factors such as social status, age, religion or caste take a back seat.
The question probably arose because of one of three possibilities:
1. You are interested in someone who is above or below the perceived perfect age difference for marriage.
2. Your parents are pushing you to marry a man who is a lot older than you.
3. Your parents are pushing you to marry a girl who is much younger than you.
But why do we worry about the age difference in marriage?
In bygone days, the boy was the breadwinner while the girl was the hearth keeper, so it made sense for a young girl to seek an older, well-settled boy.
Marriage was not meant to be an equal partnership either. A younger girl ensures the status quo of a patriarchal society is retained. There is also the popular misconception that childbirth somehow ages girls. Hence, marrying an older guy evens out the real age of the couple!
How do we find out the ideal age difference in marriage?
Every individual or couple or family believes the couple have a different understanding of what age difference is acceptable. These perceptions are based on the following factors.
1. Ability to bear children
Ability to bear children plays a key part in helping people decide the acceptable age difference in marriage. In arranged marriages, younger women are seen as more ‘fertile’ and hence the preference for younger girls when matches are shortlisted.
The chance of having a child is much higher for women younger than 35 years and men younger than 40 years. So in addition to the age difference, the absolute age of the bride and the groom also plays a role.
In patriarchal societies such as those in South Asia or the Middle East, the ability to bear children is seen exclusively from the point of view fo the age of the woman.
Even in love marriages, men and women start seeking a relationship or marriage when they realize that they may not be able to bear children with advancing age.
2. Ability to bring up children
While the ability to have a child is a factor, having the strength and stamina to help bring up a child is also a key factor that influences decisions on the suitability of the age difference in marriage.
If the age difference is such that one of the parents will be too old to play an active role in bringing up a child, it may have a bearing on the decision to get married or have a child. This factor plays a role not only in arranged marriages but also in romantic relationships.
In arranged marriages with significantly older grooms (over 15 years age difference), the burden of raising the offspring after marriage may be borne by the bride or other family members. This is true even in western societies.
Take the case of Padma Lakshmi, a famous model and TV personality. She dated significantly older men, had a child and is raising the child on her own. Most importantly, the pregnancy came as a shock to her and she did not know who the father was.
3. Ability to earn a livelihood
When marriage involves a significantly older man, the ability to earn a livelihood or provide for the family has a significant role to play when evaluating the age difference in marriage.
While the traditional roles of a man or woman in a marriage are changing and both the man and the woman may be professionally successful, decisions about the suitability of the couple for arranged marriages is primarily driven by the ability of the man to provide for the family. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule.
Even in romantic relationships, it is not uncommon for wealthy older men to marry significantly younger women.
In a study quoted in Psychology Today, When analyzing second marriages of the very wealthy men who made it to the Forbes 400 list, they married women who were on average 22.32 years younger than them!
4. Physical appearance
Physical appearance plays a role in either highlighting the age difference in marriage or covering it up! In India, some older men and women who advertise in newspaper matrimonial columns or create a profile in matrimonial sites, describe themselves as “young looking” or “Looks young for the age”.
Some people are genetically blessed and actually look young for their age. They probably have a better chance of marrying a significantly younger person. This is true in arranged marriages as well as in love marriages. After all, physical appearance is a key factor in most relationships.
The tricky question is – Do people who look much older than their age find it difficult to marry someone who is younger than them?
We do not have an answer and probably requires a scientific study to determine the answer.
5. Personal confidence
Like beauty, age difference in marriage is in the eyes of the beholder.
People who are confident of their choices (as in marriages based on love) or trust their parents or relatives to find the right person for them (as in arranged marriages), the age difference is not an issue.
Especially in love marriages that defy conventions, the couple’s resolve to remain married to each other even though their relationship may be seen as odd directly corresponds to their own personal belief and the confidence they have about their decision.
Case in point the short-lived marriages between Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore who is 16 years older than Ashton!
Age difference in marriage over the centuries
Historically, age difference in marriage has been one-sided. Husbands were expected to be older than the wives out of a purely biological impulse: It maximised the number of surviving offspring.
Among the pre-industrial Sami people of Finland, the ideal age difference for marriage was 15 years according to the Scientific American.
Yet a survey of marriages between 17th and 19th century (before the advent of antibiotics ensured child survival thus eliminating the age gap’s raison-d’etre) showed only 10% of marriages were between men and women 15 years younger!
The age difference for marriage in the Sami community ranged from the wife is 20 years younger to the wife being 25 years older with the average being 3 years younger.
Over a period of time, parts of the western world seemed to have finally settled on a rule of thumb: Half your age plus seven as the acceptable age of a bride for any western man.
This rule throws up rather interesting results as depicted in the chart below.
Why is it interesting?
According to this chart, an 18-year-old girl can marry someone no older than 22, 4 years apart, but a 30-year-old can marry someone 46 years old, 16 years apart!
Here are some more examples based on this principle:
- Age of a man is 55, there should be approximately 20 year age difference in marriage.
- Age of a man is 38, there should be about 12 year age difference in marriage.
Age of a man is 35, there should be a 10 year age difference in marriage.
- As the man becomes older, the age difference keeps growing!
Ideal age difference in marriage in the modern world
So, fast forward to the 21st century to a survey conducted in the US.
A survey of 2000 random couples throws up 4 years and 4 months as the optimal age gap for marriage with the girl being younger than the boy.
In another survey, couples rated blind dates (in the western world dating is a necessary condition for marriage) as per the rules set forth by a couple of newspapers.
The newspapers’ rules were very simple, the couples were matched based on responses to an online questionnaire and they agreed to provide both a narrative and quantitative rating in exchange for a free meal at a restaurant.
The surprising conclusion from the study is, while age seems paramount in the abstract (all things being equal, men desire younger women, and women desire older men), in practice, when two people actually go on a date or get married, the age difference might not have as much importance as other considerations, such as physical attraction and a compatible personality.
This conclusion poses an interesting question.
Should we just conclude that age difference doesn’t really matter when people fall in love?
One way to understand the age difference in marriage for a population is to plot a distribution curve called bell curve.
In the distribution, average marriage age difference [i.e., the mean] would be plotted in the middle of the curve, where the ‘bell’ shape is the tallest. Most of the couples [i.e., 68% of them, or 34% + 34%] have age difference for marriage around the average.When the height of the bell curve is low, the age difference for marriage varies more widely, that is, there is no single age difference in which the majority of the population lies.
The 2013 US census shows the bell curve peaking at an age gap of 2–3 years with the boy older than the girl.
A study in Madhya Pradesh shows the average age gap in the state across all socio-economic class is about 4.4 years. No wonder India has fewer divorces!
Age difference in marriage in India
In the vast, comforting, confusing mess we call our homeland, the answer varies and is always coloured by personal experience and expectations.
For our grandparents and great-grandparents, age difference in marriage was about a decade or so. The girl was married off quite young, frequently even before puberty and the boy was also rather young.
The expectations were vastly different in those days, the husband’s house served as a sort of finishing school for the girl. She underwent a trial-by-fire, vocation training for learning household management skills and handling a large group of not-all-friendly strangers with no help from parents.
Many cultures (Marathas, Sindhis) even changed the name of the girl after marriage. The girl would develop her persona primarily post marriage; marrying young, arguably, helped bond in a joint family setting and develop deeper roots within the husband’s family.
The boy’s responsibility was just as high though there was a safety net in a joint family. He was expected to do enough to make everyone proud, his wife’s status in the joint family was mainly a reflection of how well he did.
Navigating these social labyrinths, yet creating a unique identity as a couple must have been a challenge! They had not experienced anything easier, so they probably complained a lot less.
But even in bygone days, when people more-or-less toed the line of tradition, the age difference for marriage varied widely. The grand old man we all love and respect, Gandhiji was a year younger than his helpmeet Kasturba.
Being in a Joint Family meant marriage could occur long before the boy was ready to bear the responsibility of a wife. Marriages were more of an alliance between families than between the boy and the girl.
Age difference in marriage: Problems and Advantages
Knowing about the different problems arising with a different age difference between you and your intended match helps you navigate future conflicts.
An age difference of 3-years or less: Advantages
A 4-years or more age difference in marriage puts the bride and groom in two different generations as far as cultural experience go! A gap of 3 years or less, the holy grail that both couples and their parents seem to prefer, is probably the ideal age difference for marriage.
1. Great connection
Marrying someone in his/her own age group sounds like a continuation of single life – A new person to hang out with, one with whom you connect instantly. Laughing at the same jokes and broad-based compatibility in terms of habits and lifestyle choices all point to the possibility of fewer conflicts and misunderstandings.
The socialising, the energy level, the life experiences, the cultural experiences, will probably dovetail beautifully. You will both idolise the cricketer in the same generation, if not the exact same one. You will each know the most popular songs of the day. You will both read the same book or watch the movie made from the same book.
2. Easier to build a social network
Not only will the friends of both your friends will be in the same age group, but each could also play cupid and set up friends together and grow into other phases of life as joint couples. We see such stories everywhere both on (Example: The Hindi movie Yeh Jawani Hai Dewani) and off the silver screen. And we end up with perfect playmates for future kids!
According to Dr Stephanie Coontz, couples who have big friends circle or social life outside marriage tend to have happier marriages!
3. Biological advantages for couples in the same age group
Having children, bringing them up, managing work pressures, long commutes, and other stressful life events require a lot of mental and physical energy. Couples in the same age group can choose to tackle these challenges together and work as a team. When you have a big age difference, one person inevitably shoulders a lot more purely because of the age factor!
An age difference of 3-years or less: Disadvantages
The syncing up of both the bride and groom’s lives can throw up a lot of problems as well!
1. Greater potential for conflict
When you have a husband and wife in the same age group, they will both go through ups and downs in their lives at the same time. For example, the wife may be working long hours to meet a deadline when the husband is also busy at work. This could lead to conflicts about who will handle responsibilities at homes such as household chores or dealing with children or pets.
2. Lack of experience
Both, the bride and groom, will display similar (im)maturity in dealing with personal issues. There is no grown-up in the relationship and both of them have to deal with disappointments and frustrations without straining the relationship to a point where reconciliation is not possible. When one of the partners is significantly older, the benefit of hindsight and wisdom can smoothen a lot of rough patches that couples will go through in their marriages.
3. Ageing may not be pleasant
When the couple is of similar age, both of them will face similar health issues as both age together. Especially in a nuclear family setup and grown-up children who are no longer staying with the couple, they are left to themselves to deal with the challenges of leading an independent life as they become older and there is no one around to help.
We are always deeply attached to the one who stood by us in times of turmoil. There will be plenty of storms amidst the lull of a happy life. But, if the couple can navigate these stormy waters with a bit of love, a bit of yielding and a lot of understanding, the relationship would turn out to be the stuff of legend!
What’s it like having an older wife?
In one of noted Bollywood star Naseeruddin Shah’s early movies, Dil Aakhir Dil Hai (1982), he ends up marrying to an older girl because of family compulsions and is unable to accept her because of the age difference.
He addresses her as Kusum-ji (ji in Hindi is a usually added to the name as a mark of respect) for almost the entire length of the movie! At the end of the movie, he comes back to her, having learned the value of her love and forbearance.
In the last scene, he asks her to forgive him and very subtly signals his desire to get back together by calling her Kusum.
In general, women have a longer lifespan when compared to men. An older bride and younger groom ensure longer companionship in the dusk of our lives!
Here are some of the advantages of marrying an older woman.
1. Being the older male may not be an advantage after all
These days, showing someone respect for being elder is an archaic concept. Respect and Love are earned through actions and trust built over a long period of time. Marrying a younger girl is not going to guarantee automatic respect as you will have to endear yourself to your wife who may be from a different generation. You will definitely not have to deal with this issue when you marry an older woman!
2. Older women know what they want
Older women have been there and done that. They have gone through tricky phases that most people go through when they are not sure what they want. On the other hand, it’s a nightmare to build a relationship with someone who has shifting goal posts about what they want from life and from the relationship. No matter what you do, you never measure up to a younger woman’s expectation.
3. Older women can deal with challenges better
Age definitely brings with it wisdom. Every setback in life is a lesson that comes into play whenever a challenging situation presents itself. In a marriage, as the couple goes through challenges that range from raising children, financial issues, relationship issues, dealing with the in-laws, an older woman can provide the much needed ‘adult’ perspective to tide over the setbacks.
Some of the disadvantages of marrying an older woman include:
1. Ability to bear and raise children
The chances of having a child with an older woman are relatively lesser. With age fertility of women (and men) goes down. Also, having a child with an older woman could mean more burden on the man to keep up with the demands of bringing up a child.
2. Compatibility issues in the long run
The generational gap may not be a deciding factor when choosing an older woman. However, once the initial romance fades off and the reality of having married someone who is significantly older than you may not be pleasant. Y
our wife may not really appreciate your obsession with your smartwatch or you may not like her old-fashioned dress sense. You may have both grown up in different time frames and this might lead to miscommunications and perception gaps.
3. Perception issues
In conservative societies, married women are expected to be younger than the husband. Even if your wife appears younger than her real age, you may have to share the age of your wife in several instances such as when buying insurance, school admissions for children, applying for any government services, and most importantly dealing with relatives who want to know your wife’s age.
This may create uncomfortable situations that can sour the relationship or make you regret your decision.
Fun fact: Sachin Tendulkar is 6 years younger than his wife – Anjali Tendulkar. The couples enjoy an excellent relationship and are happily married.
What about a woman marrying a man who is a lot older?
Both pop-culture and classic culture bless a May-December romance (Cheeni Kum, Jane Eyre and Mr Rothschild, any number of Mills and Boon novels).
There are huge advantages to bucking the trend and marrying a man from a different generation altogether.
1. There is a pleasure is not caring about others
There is, first and foremost, the charm of being unique and standing out as someone who follows her heart. Then there is the Mona Lisa smile of being blissfully happy, knowing every nosy aunt is wondering why while your own heart just knows! Women with a strong sense of destiny will enjoy the prospect of going against the grain.
2. Financial benefits of marrying an older man
Following your heart in love lets you follow your heart in other facets of life too. One partner with a well-entrenched career or having enough savings from a decade-long career allows the other the luxury of a more non-traditional and maybe even a non-remunerative career.
Financial freedom and the option to pursue things you really want to do is a definite perk when marrying an older man.
3. Having a steady companion for life
You get to tread two different decades of life in parallel, the 30’s/40’s and the 20s, enjoying the fun frolic of youth and the wisdom of age at the same time. There is the luxury of having someone experienced in the ways of the world always in your corner. One tends to not easily get agitated with age. The faith that, the world will sort itself out and life will continue much as before, whatever be the crisis, comes with age.
Marrying an older man has its share of problems.
Marrying an older man is not without its own problems either. The possibility of one partner dying earlier or facing health issues is certainly not theoretical anymore!
1. Generation gap can become an issue
The cultural disconnect may start gaining prominence as the initial charm wears off. You may adore Kohli but your husband swears by VVS Laxman and you ask, who is that? You will look to AR Rehman while your husband swears the only music director worth listening to is the incomparable Ilayaraja.
You love sharing life online, he is security conscious and thinks Facebook is only for immature teens! Or you may have moved on Snapchat and Instagram while he believes in writing letters and making the occasional trip to the post office.
Generational differences also show up in more important aspects of your married life such as bringing up the child. You believe in freedom he is a disciplinarian. You want to be a friend he wants to be a guide.
2. Old habits die hard
Open communication and greater tolerance are definitely required if you plan to have a long-term marriage with an older gentleman. As people grow older, they develop certain worldviews or approaches to dealing with life. On the other hand, marriage is all about adjusting to the needs and the wants of your spouse and an inflexible approach can cause friction in the relationship.
3. Negative perceptions can be tiring
Negative perceptions about older men dating or marrying younger women are all too common. Some people will also think that you probably married an old man for his wealth. Sometimes, these prejudices can hurt you when someone asks why you chose to marry someone much older than you. These situations will possibly also make you doubt your decision about the marriage.
Frequently asked questions about age difference in marriage
+ Does age difference matter in arranged marriages?
No, it does not matter.
Here is why.
You could choose to be a fatalist and say whatever fate has in store for each of us! You could be a romantic person and say whatever/whoever strikes your heart as the right person irrespective of the age difference. You could even be a pragmatist and realise there is no such thing as age difference. Every age difference is the ideal marriage age difference, provided, you are willing to put in the hard work to make it a good life!
After all, when the heart says yes, everything else will always fall in place!
+ How old is too much of a age difference?
The practical answer is any age difference where either the bride or the groom cannot fulfil the expectations of the other person.
+ What is the most common age difference between couples?
This differs from country to country and evening within the country from region to region. There is no one single average age gap between couples that can be classified as the most common.
+ What is the maximum age difference for marriage?
There is no such thing as a maximum age difference in marriage. It depends on the couple’s ability to meet each other’s expectations.
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