When you begin dating someone new, there's a wide range of things you probably consider to determine compatibilities, such as values, attraction, personality, and interests. But there's one thing you may not have taken into consideration that's worth giving a little thought to: your age gap. While it's true that a relationship age gap of 10 years or more can increase your chances of having marital problems, is there an ideal age gap for setting yourself up for success in the relationship department? As it turns out, science tells us there is an ideal age difference in a relationship that can increase your chances for everlasting love, and it's a lot smaller than you might have thought.
Whether you're still on the market or you've already found "the one," you likely already know that there's no exact recipe for a successful relationship. A happy, healthy relationship is dictated by the people in it, and there are many factors that contribute to its long-term success. We all know that the best things in life don't come without putting in a little work, and love is no exception.
Here, we explain the ideal age gap for long-term happiness, but also share why you shouldn't let it scare you.
The Ideal Age Gap in Relationships
According to a study in the Journal of Population Economics, marital satisfaction decreases more significantly in couples with a larger age gap compared to couples with more similar ages.
Couples with a zero to three-year age difference showed greater satisfaction than those with a four- to six-year gap. Likewise, couples with a four- to six-year gap showed greater satisfaction than those with a seven-plus year gap. In general, marital satisfaction decreased as the age difference increased. One theory supported by evidence provided in the study is that differently aged couples are less resilient to negative shocks in the relationship, including both economic hardship and illness. Although not specifically tested for, other life cycle-related factors including children and retirement were mentioned.
It's also worth noting that, on average, both men and women showed greater levels of marital satisfaction when married to younger partners than those with partners older than them, regardless of the age gap. However, that initial higher satisfaction seemed to dissipate after six to 10 years of marriage.
The Counterpoint to Consider
Bear in mind that these statistics simply try to identify and analyze relationship patterns, not create them. Also, the sample size was relatively small with only 3,374 couples studied. With all things in life, there are always going to be exceptions to the rule.
Rather, studies like these simply lend legitimacy to the idea that the age difference in relationships can also equate to significant differences in interests, lifestyle, and long-term goals between partners. Happiness among couples with various age differences has been the subject of several studies over the years, and the findings vary vastly depending on outside factors that are difficult to account for.
Making it work is really about having enough in common to bond, enough difference to learn from each other, and similar views on partnerships.
None of this is to say that you should swipe left on someone who you think you might connect with because they might be four, seven, or 10 years older than you. But if you're having problems connecting on shared interests in your relationship and you have a considerable age gap between you, you might want to examine if that will impact your long-term potential.
Meet the Expert
- Jenna Birch is a health and lifestyle journalist. Her work appears frequently in print and online publications including Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Self, Teen Vogue, Marie Claire, Psychology Today, Health, Women's Health, and Yahoo!, among many others. She is also the author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life & Love (Grand Central Life & Style, January 2018), a dating guide for modern women trying to navigate today’s complicated romantic landscape.
- Theresa E. DiDonato, Ph.D. is a social psychologist and associate professor at Loyola University Maryland. Her research interests focus on different aspects of romantic relationships, from factors that contribute to romantic attraction (e.g., humor) and relationship satisfaction (e.g., forgiveness) to how the self-concept changes in relationship participation or dissolution.
What to Ask Before Committing
If you've found someone you really click with, it's understandable that you'd be hesitant to break things off simply because of the difference in your age. After all, maturity is relative and can be measured in more than just years. "Making it work is really about having enough in common to bond, enough difference to learn from each other, and similar views on partnerships," says journalist and author Jenna Birch. But before you make any major decisions, try answering these questions to make sure you and your partner are on the same page in as many ways as possible.
- What goals do you have for your life? Think about your future goals and what you envision for your life. Things like careers, children, finances and other major life events are worth having an honest conversation about.
- What common interests do you share? These will become even more important as you grow older together. Develop your shared hobbies and interests, as they can strengthen your connection when an age gap may create distance.
- Do your values and morals match up? This may seem like an obvious one, but dig deeper than just general good nature. Tackle touchy subjects that could lead to conflict in the future, like politics and religion.
- Are you willing to compromise? An important aspect of any healthy relationship is the ability to compromise, but even more so when your partner is in a different stage of life than you are.
- Are you resilient to outside opinions? As social psychologist Theresa DiDonato points out, "Research suggests that age-gap couples should be prepared to encounter negative bias." So if you're someone who is more sensitive to unsolicited opinions, be ready to field questions and comments that you may find annoying or downright rude.
Ultimately, like with any healthy relationship, being open and honest with each other is the best way to prepare for future discord. Focus on ways to prevent the difference in your ages from creating a divide between you, and recognize that you may be at different stages of your life at any given time, and that's okay. Mutual respect and open communication will go a long way in bridging any gap.
Lee WS, Mckinnish T. The marital satisfaction of differently aged couples. J Popul Econ. 2018;31(2):337-362. doi:10.1007/s00148-017-0658-8
Sela Y, Pham MN, Mogilski JK, Lopes GS, Shackelford TK, Zeigler-Hill V. Why do people disparage May–December romances? Condemnation of age-discrepant romantic relationships as strategic moralization. Personality and Individual Differences. 2018 Aug; 130:6-10. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2018.03.004.