Does an Age Difference Impact Relationships?

Published on: 10 Mar 2020
Clinically Reviewed by Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW
age differences in relationships

Consenting romantic relationships come in all shapes and sizes. However, when it comes to age differences between two people, reports show that most couples are born within three years of each other in the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America. This is likely because we meet our partners in places like school or entry-level jobs where everyone is around the same age. Although there can certainly be obstacles for those relationships, they’re not usually impacted by the number of candles on the birthday cake. The greater impact happens with substantial age gaps between partners.

Couples with age gaps between approximately 5-15 years are estimated to make up 8.5% of the American population. An older man with a younger woman is the more common scenario with only 1.3% of couples being composed of an older woman and younger man. Canadian data reveals that age gap relationships are more prevalent for same-sex couples, with 26% of male and 18% of female duos involving an age gap.

The reasons for these differences are largely speculative. Is it an evolutionary instinct to reproduce with someone younger? Is it because an older partner provides more financial security? Or does love just work in mysterious ways? Whatever the reason for getting together, however, staying together might require some extra work.

The challenges for age gap relationships are external, based on how others perceive them, and internal, as individuals deal with different life stages. The silver lining is that when couples work through age gap issues, studies find that they can have greater marital satisfaction than similar-aged couples. By understanding when your issues are a result of an age difference, and not a fractured love connection, you can lower stress while strengthening your bond.

The Influence of Society on Age Gap Relationships

Although a study on age preferences found that men and women are generally open to age gaps in their own future relationships, another study found that we’re less understanding when it comes to someone else’s relationship. It’s a bit hypocritical, isn’t it? Many people disapprove of these relationships from a moral standpoint and others fundamentally don’t believe that they’ll be successful. The results are much harsher when it comes to couples with an older woman and a younger man.

It’s easy to say, “Forget about the haters,” but the truth is that societal judgment makes its way into our private lives. In heterosexual couples, women can suffer from name-calling in both directions — “gold digger” when they’re younger and “cougar” when they’re older. Men largely escape this type of shaming. Even this double standard can cause tension in a relationship with an age gap. It’s important for men — both older and younger — to understand that society can influence their female partner’s self-esteem and they should actively stick up for her if these situations arise. Furthermore, a partner who isn’t emotionally affected by the age difference shouldn’t dismiss the other person’s negative feelings. Listening and supporting them can go a long way towards making them feel comfortable.

An age-gap relationship will ultimately fail if the couple is socially marginalized by their family and friends. This means, they have a higher likelihood of breaking up if they believe that their inner circle would prefer that outcome. It’s difficult to commit to your partner when the people closest to you don’t want you to be together. It’s important to note that this difficulty in committing isn’t specifically because of the age gap, but due to societal treatment due to the age gap. In the absence of a supportive network, it’s more important for the couple to be emotionally connected, invested, and committed to the relationship.

Dealing With Different Life Stages

Between the two partners in an age-gap relationship, there can be friction based on power imbalances and clashing personal values. For example, an older partner might have traditional beliefs about relationships while the younger has more progressive ones. Finding common ground and updating your values so that they work for both partners will be essential.

It simply won’t work in the long-term if one partner holds another hostage because they have more power. With differently aged couples, this power can range from financial status (older partners tend to have more money) or social status (younger partners can be more desired by others). You shouldn’t feel like you’re being ignored or controlled due to age-related issues.

One of the theories for age-gap relationships between older men and younger women is that it’s based on evolution. With this kind of match, the theory goes that the male partner has accumulated wealth to support the family, which takes more time, and the woman is in her prime reproductive years. It sounds old-fashioned, but studies show that these relationships rooted in traditional roles — maybe surprisingly, maybe very surprisingly — are associated with higher life satisfaction.

An issue that can arise, however, is when one partner is ready for children while the other wants to wait. The younger woman may feel pressured to get pregnant before she’s ready, or, with an older woman and younger man, the man might not feel ready. Another scenario is when the younger man wants children but the older woman doesn’t. It’s not uncommon for different opinions about when, or if, to have a family; these differences of opinion can and do affect a couple’s relationship, but the conversation might be introduced even earlier in a relationship when there’s an age gap.

Yes, there will be time between the two people’s birthdays, but less time to talk about important topics. If any of these issues are starting to arise, don’t hesitate to find a couples counselor who’s knowledgeable but non-judgemental about age gap relationships. And remember, relationships come in all shapes and sizes and you shouldn’t let the opinions of others impact your feelings for your partner if the coupling works!

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

You May Also Like
two people standing apart facing each other
Read More
Published on: 12 Jun 2019

How to Ask for Space From a Partner

Published on: 12 Jun 2019
Let’s face it, sometimes your partner will annoy you. I used to think conflict with my partner meant…

Talkspace mental health services