How does the age gap between partners affect their survival?

Sven Drefahl, Stockholm University Demography Unit

Research that analyzed the effect of a spouse on the mortality of the target person found various predictors such as education, smoking habits, and social status that affect survival chances. A further factor that influences partners is the age gap between them. In many countries, the age difference between spouses at marriage remained relatively stable for several decades. In Denmark, if considering all marriages, men are about 3 years older as their spouses on average. Several authors analyzed the age gap between spouses in respect to mortality and found that having a younger spouse is beneficial, while having an older spouse is detrimental for ones own survival. Most of the observed effects could not be explained satisfyingly until now, mainly because of methodological drawbacks and insufficiency of the used data. The most common explanations refer to selection effects, care giving in later life, and some positive psychological and sociological effects of having a younger spouse. The present study extends earlier work by using longitudinal Danish register data which includes the entire history of key demographic events of the whole population from 1980 onwards. Controlling for confounding factors such as education and wealth, preliminary results suggest that having a younger spouse is beneficial for men but not for women.

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Presented in Poster Session 2