Younger Husbands Shorten Womens' Lives

A younger wife tends to raise her husband's life expectancy. But a new study shows that, for women, the opposite is the case — perhaps because of "cougar" stigma.

According to ScienceDaily, some scientists speculate that younger wives make their husbands healthier by encouraging exercise and social life, and by actively taking care of them. Younger husbands may not fill this role simply because women tend to have larger networks of friends and helpers already. As ScienceDaily puts it, "a younger husband wouldn't help extend the life of his older wife by taking care of her, going for a walk with her and enjoying late life together. She already has friends for that." This implies that women aren't all cat-ladies-in-training who need husbands to save them from a life of crushing loneliness — thanks science!

What's actually surprising, though, is that according to a study by Sven Drefahl of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, younger husbands tend to make women die sooner. The effect isn't trivial — having a husband 7-9 years younger ups women's mortality risk by 20 percent. ScienceDaily offers a possible explanation:

"One of the few possible explanations is that couples with younger husbands violate social norms and thus suffer from social sanctions," says Drefahl. Since marrying a younger husband deviates from what is regarded as normal, these couples could be regarded as outsiders and receive less social support. This could result in a less joyful and more stressful life, reduced health, and finally, increased mortality.

Much as weight stigma can harm women's health, it appears that cougar stigma might even shorten their lives. And women can't even get out of this bind by doing the socially accepted thing and marrying older men: an older husband also lowers a woman's life expectancy. Says ScienceDaily, "the best choice for a woman is to marry a man of exactly the same age." Awesome — add that to the tally of things we're supposed to do. The hopeful takeaway, if there is one, is that women do fine on their own in terms of health and longevity, still outliving men on average. Which leaves them free to choose partners who will make their lives happier, not longer.

Downside Of Marriage For Women: The Greater A Wife's Age Gap From Her Husband, The Lower Her Life Expectancy [ScienceDaily]