Age difference in marriage – Does it really matter?


Age difference in marriage

Is Age difference in marriage a key factor?

What is the ideal age difference in marriage? Seems like an odd question right? Especially in the context of arranged marriage, where your ideal match is picked for you. 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 just a wee bit older than you (most probably the other way around!)?

What is considered an acceptable age difference in marriages, especially arranged marriages?

If you look around at your own friends and relatives, the age difference varies widely probably from a few weeks to decade or so. The girl is usually younger than the boy, but that varies too as long as the age difference is within a year or two. The main deciding factor, arguably, is how well the horoscopes match!

In this blog post, we will explore how age difference in marriage varies across cultures and the pros and cons of age difference in marriage from different perspectives in the context of arranged marriages.

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 being 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.

Age difference in marriage

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!

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.

Image showing Gandhi and his wife, Kasturba

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, Bapuji 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.

Ideal age difference in marriage in the modern world

Age difference in marriageSo, fast forward to the 21st century to a survey conducted in the US of A, a country where even the presidential election is held only to confirm the pre-election survey of their infinite channels and magazines.

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.

Another research group, seeking new fodder for the research publication mill, decided to try a different angle.

They surveyed couples rating blind dates (in the western world dating is a necessary condition for marriage, so yeah, it definitely applies) 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?

Why consider age difference in marriage at all?

One way to understand 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.

Age difference in marriage

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.

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, marrying an older guy evens out the real age of the couple.

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: Pros and cons to think about

Knowing about the different problems arising with a different age difference between you and your intended match helps you navigate future conflicts.

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 both the couple and their parents seek, is the ideal age difference for marriage.

1. 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.

2. 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.

Age difference in marriage

3. Not only will the friends of both your friends will be in the same age group, each could play cupid and set up friends together and grow into other phases of life as joint couples.

We see such stories everywhere both on (Yeh Jawani Hai Dewani) and off the silver screen. And we end up with perfect playmates for future kids 😉

Age difference of 3-years or less: Disadvantages

But yes, the syncing up of both the bride and groom’s lives throws up a lot of problems.

1. Both will go through similar ups and downs in your careers at the same time. The bride will work longer hours, sure that the groom can handle the dinner prep, but that particular evening is when he also needs to work more or decides to take a break and recreate bachelor days.

2. Similarly, the groom might be in a crisis mode at work when the bride has just come out of hers unscathed and wants to celebrate it.

3. Both, the bride and groom, will display similar (im)maturity in dealing with personal issues.

4. Both will face similar health issues as both age together. But that last bit is a few decades away yet.

There will be plenty of storms amidst the lull of a happy life. But, if both of you 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!

We are always deeply attached to the one who stood by us in times of turmoil right? The late 20s and early 30s have plenty of turmoil for both the bride and the groom.

What’s it like having an older wife?

Remember one of Naseeruddin Shah’s early movies, “Dil Aakhir Dil hai? He ends up married to an older girl, Rakhee, on family compulsions and is unable to accept her.

At the end of the movie, he comes back to her, having learned the value of her love and forbearance. This was in 1982.

He addresses her as Kusumji for almost the entire length of the movie. In the last scene, he asks her to forgive him and very subtly signals his desire to get back together: he starts calling her Kusum.

Wives and girlfriends of top athletes

1. These days, showing someone respect for just having been on Terra Firma longer, is an archaic concept. Respect and Love are earned by the capacity to do and to just be. Marrying a younger girl is not going to guarantee anything. On the other hand, women live longer than men, older bride younger groom ensures longer companionship in the dusk of our lives.

2. The family size norm of just 1 or 2 kids makes it ridiculously easy to maintain a fairly svelte body if one desires it.

3. And finally, women’s interest in “conjugal bliss” increases in middle age while it decreases for men, it just might be prudent for an older girl to marry a younger boy!

The legendary Sachin Tendulkar is 3 years younger than his better half. Ranbir Kapoor ended up both mature, responsible and happy for coming to know Konkana Sharma in “Wake Up Sid!

What about a woman marrying a man who is a lot older?

There are huge advantages to bucking the trend and marrying someone from a different generation altogether.

1. There is, first and foremost, the cache of being unique, standing out as someone who follows his/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!

2. 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.

3. Following your heart in love lets you follow your heart in other facets of life too. One partner being well entrenched in a 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 careers.

4. 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.

Age difference in marriage

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).

Marrying an older man has its share of problems

1. It is not without its own problems either, the possibility of one partner dying earlier or facing health issues is certainly not theoretical anymore. The friends and relative group(s) may not be compatible.

2. There will be a culture shock for you. 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.

3. There may also be vast differences in child rearing ideas. You believe in freedom he is a disciplinarian. You want to be a friend he wants to be a guide.

4. You love sharing life online, he is security conscious and thinks Facebook is only for immature teens!

Open communication and greater tolerance are definitely required if you plan to have a long-term marriage with an older gentleman.

Finally, does age difference matter in arranged marriages?

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.

You could even be a pragmatist and realise there is no such thing, 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.

When the heart says yes, everything else will always fall in place!

How did age difference in marriage impact your married life? Share your story in the comments section below.

Other awesome blog posts on arranged marriages

Do Women Like Bald Men in Arranged Marriages?

Living With In-Laws After Arranged Marriage – Challenges and Tips

Arranged Marriage First Meeting Tips From Dating Experts

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  1. Yes you are right, the minimum age for a 22 year old is 18 year old bride etc… But that is only the minimum age gap.

    But I must say, search for a partner is almost a biological urge. I don’t see marriage heading to oblivion yet.

  2. Your Chart ‘half-age-plus-seven relationship rule’ has been Outrageously read. The Chart shows an 18yr old (blue line- your age) can marry a 22yr old (black line – upper limit) boy & NOT 29yr old boy. Again, the Chart shows a 30yr old woman can marry a 46 yr old man & NOT 53yr old. Ofcourse the point that the age difference changes from 4yrs to 16yrs is still valid. Age difference in marriage 3 decades ago, when husband was the sole bread-winner & wife was the home-maker, had one set of rationale. Age difference in the present times, when husband & wife are both into equivalent jobs & both share household work, has a different rationale. The earlier situation wherein the husband was expected to take the Lead on all External Issues, & the wife managed all domestic concerns had the advantage & efficiency of Role Clarity in a Team. But the wife could resent her choicelessness & the husband could miss domestic serenity in the hurly burly of the Workplace Rat Race. The present situation offers
    Flexibility of Roles to both partners on a case-by-case basis or by force of personality. The Flexibility comes at the risk of Misunderstanding & Residual Resentment. Over-riding all other aspects is the Rapidly Diminishing Need for the Institution of Marriage. Girls No Longer Need the Financial Security offered by Marriage. Boys can see no Domestic advantage offered by Marriage. Clearly Marriage as a Human Soceity Institution is rapidly heading to Oblivion.

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