OLDER WOMENIYOUNGER MEN: A LOOK AT THE IMPLICATIONS OF AGE HETEROGAMY IN MARRIAGE BY Nichole R. Proulx-King B.A. University of Maine, 2002 A THESIS Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science (in Human Development) The Graduate School The University of Maine August, 2004Advisory Committee:Sandra L. Caron, Professor of Family Relations, AdvisorMary Ellin Logue, Assistant Professor of Early Childhood EducationMary Madden, Assistant Research Professor
OLDER WOMENNOUNGER MEN: A LOOK AT THE IMPLICATIONS OF AGE HETEROGAMY IN MARRIAGE By Nichole R. Proulx-King Thesis Advisor: Dr. Sandra L. Caron An Abstract of the Thesis Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science (in Human Development) August, 2004 This study provides insight into the lives of eight married couples involvedin an age-heterogamous relationship where the wife is eight or more years olderthan her husband. While there is a lot of information in the literature about menwho date and marry younger women, the research on this subject is very limitedor outdated. This exploratory study provided valuable information in severalareas about couples in woman-older marriages. The interviews were conductedwith each participant separately and explored three major topics of interest: theimpact that age difference has on the relationship, the issues that arise for thecouple, and any difference in husbands and wives experience. Implications forprofessionals working with such couples, as well as for further research, will bediscussed.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to thank all of the people who have supported me throughoutthis process and who have helped me get to this point in my life. First I wouldlike to thank my committee for their help in putting this thesis together. Dr. MaryEllin Logue and Dr. Mary Madden have given me valuable insight into thedynamics of this project. I would especially like to recognize the chair of mycommittee, Dr. Sandra Caron, who has not only been someone who has guidedme through my graduate school career, and has done an exceptional job helpingme with this project, but is also a mentor and a friend. I would also like to thank my husband, Kraig, for supporting me throughevery step of graduate school and for being my rock and my encouragement.Without his patience, emotional support, and unconditional love I would neverhave completed this thesis. I certainly cannot leave out my parents, Raymond and Patricia Proulx,who gave me the tools I needed to go as far as I have. They have always beenmy biggest fans and supporters and I am lucky to be a part of their lives. I alsowant to thank my brothers Raymond and Kevin for their never-ending supportand encouragement. I would like to thank John and Natalie King for their continued help and forbelieving in me. I am proud to be a part of your family. Finally, I would like tothank all of my friends that have supported me throughout this process especiallyErin and Renee, and most importantly Ely who has given me so much continuousstrength and encouragement to make it through.
TABLE OF CONTENTS ...ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS .................................................................................. IIILIST OF TABLES ............................................................................................... viChapter1. INTRODUCTION ........................................................................................... 12 . REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ................................................................... 5 Definitions ............................................................................................... 5 Homogamy .............................................................................................. 5 Heterogamy ............................................................................................. 8 Type of Persons Engaging in Age Heterogamous Relationships .......... 11 Issues Raised in Woman.Older. Age Heterogamous Marriages ........... 15 Summary ............................................................................................... 18 Purpose of Study and Research Questions .......................................... 193 . METHODOLOGY......................................................................................... 22 Sample .................................................................................................. 22 Interview Procedure .............................................................................. 24 Interview Technique .............................................................................. 25 Data Analysis ........................................................................................ 264 . RESULTS .................................................................................................... 27 Research Question 1 ............................................................................ 27 32 Research Question 2 ............................................................................ 38 Research Question 3 ............................................................................5.DISCUSSION ................................................................................................ 40 Research Question 1 ............................................................................ 41 42 Research Question 2 .......................................................................... Research Question 3 ............................................................................ 43 Implications ........................................................................................... 45 Limitations ............................................................................................. 46REFERENCES ................................................................................................ 49
LIST OF TABLESTable 1: Demographics ..................................................................................... 23Table 2 : Results for Research Question 1 ........................................................ 28Table 3: Results for Research Question 2 ........................................................ 33 37Table 4: Advice for People Entering This Type of Marriage .............................
CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION Recently there has been a lot of attention given to women marryingyounger men in the popular press. Sitcoms, such as Happy Family, have pokedfun at the idea of a younger man being happily involved in a relationship with anolder woman. Hollywood has had a field day reporting on the dating patterns ofsome of its biggest female stars and their involvement with younger men. Aclassic example of this on Hollywoods big screen is The Graduate, a movieabout how a college graduate is seduced by a woman who is twice his age. Thismovie also included the popular song, Mrs. Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel.More recently, another movie, How Stella Got her Groove Back, was about howa successful, single, businesswoman falls in love with a man that is half her age,and it portrayed many of the issues and societal pressures that men and womenface as they enter into this type of relationship. Talk shows like Oprah havedevoted entire shows to talking with couples that are engaged in this type ofmarriage, and her October 2003, magazine featured a cover story regarding thistopic as well (Picket, 2003). Finally, there have even been books written for women within the past twodecades about how to maintain a relationship with a younger man. For example,Loving a Younger Man, by Victoria Houston (1987) addresses many of the issuesthat come up for a woman who is in love with a younger man while battling thesocietal attitudes against relationships where the woman is older than her malepartner.
What does all of this media attention mean? It certainly means that thisissue is on our mind more than we are willing to admit. It also means that manypeople are deviating from the norm of usual dating and marital relationships.This attention also shows that we are not yet willing to completely accept thesetypes of relationships. Those who participate in woman-older marriages anddating relationships are still seen as deviants in our society. The United States is founded upon the basis that everyone remains equaland can endure many freedoms that other societies cannot. Amongst thesefreedoms is our ability to choose a mate. Many social scientists speculate thatmost people tend to marry others that are similar to themselves in areas such asrace, age, religion, and socioeconomic status, due to the fact that we tend to live,work, and become friends with people who are like us. However, there are nolegal restrictions for marrying someone who is a different from you in theseareas. Therefore, you would think that society completely accepts the practice ofdoing this wholeheartedly. It was not so long ago where it was completely against the societys moralgroundings to marry someone who was not within the same race. Historically,many of the major religions in the United States have also been very opposed tomarriages that were not homogamous in religion. While some churches stilloppose this, at least to some degree, some of its members have chosen to strayfrom this strict code. Much movement has taken place for mixed racial andinterfaith marriages to become more widely accepted and practiced, by society
as a whole, in this new century. However, our culture still continues to attach anegative stigma to these marriages in many cases. Living in our so-called liberal society one would think that issuessurrounding age would not have any bearing on a marriage as long as bothpartners were mentally and emotionally able to commit to their union. In caseswhere men and women are vastly different in age it does not get looked downupon nearly as significantly when the male is older than the female, but when thecase is the opposite more than just a few eyebrows are raised. Historically nearly half of married men have been at least five or moreyears older than their wives. However, the number of men who are older thantheir wives has actually declined drastically since the beginning of the twentiethcentury, with the most dramatic decline between 1900 and 1960 (Atkinson &Glass, 1985). Given the fact that fewer marriages exist in which the husband isolder, it would make sense that attitudes surrounding this issue would havechanged at least slightly. Taking into account the shrinking number of husband-older marriages, it is odd that societys attitudes are not as accepting ofmarriages in which the woman is older than the man as they are when theopposite is true. Why do we automatically assume that she is robbing thecradle, or that he is simply looking for a motherly figure? Why does societymore readily justify an age difference in marriage if the male partner is older thanhis wife? Of course age discrepant relationships, in general, lack full socialapproval. According to one study, women who married significantly older men
reported that in many cases their fathers disapproved of their relationships(Knox, Britton, & Crisp, 1997). This paper seeks to explore the issuessurrounding many of these questions, and in doing so looks at both the societalattitudes and implications about homogamy and heterogamy within relationships,with its main focus on age discrepancies particularly in the case of husbandyounger marriages.
CHAPTER 2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATUREDefinitions Before continuing our discussion, both homogamy and heterogamydeserve a brief definition. First, homogamy refers to a person marrying within thesame race, religion, culture, socioeconomic status, and age. In other words,marrying someone who has a very similar background and belongs to the sameage cohort. Secondly, heterogamy refers to just the opposite; a person marryingoutside of their race, religion, culture, socioeconomic status, and age.Homogamy Social scientists have speculated that people are generally homogamousin their relationships. In America, people are typically involved in marriageswhere the man is slightly older than the woman, in most cases he isapproximately two to three years older than she is, but is still considered to bewithin the same age group. Shehan, Berardo, Vera, and Carley (1991) cite that itis amazing heterogamous relationships can even exist. This is due to both thestrong societal pressure for people to marry others who are similar, as well as theunlikelihood that people will associate with potential mates who are dissimilar tothem. Simply stated, people who are similar in age are more likely to berelatively at the same point in their lives, and therefore, have parallel attitudesand ideas. According to the filter theory of mate selection, we tend to narrow downour potential mates through a variety of ways. As Kerckhoff and Davis (1962)
outline, we technically all begin with one large pool of eligible partners, and afterfiltering for propinquity (geographic closeness), ethnicity and race, age, andsocioeconomic status we are left with a very small number of potential spouseswho most resemble us. Generally it is out of this small sample that we choosethe person we will marry. For example, a woman who is in her twenties and isplanning to have children one day would be more likely to filter out potentialmates who are much older than herself simply because they may already havechildren and do not want any more, or they are too old to have the patience andenergy to start a family at that point in their lives. Several studies have been conducted to support the theory that peoplegenerally participate in homogamous relationships. In one study of 278undergraduates at East Carolina University, researchers found that collegestudents do tend to prefer someone who is similar to them when it comes tochoosing a dating partner (Knox, Zusman, & Nieves, 1997). However, it wasfound that homogamy was even more important to the college students when itcame to choosing a marriage partner. When they compared the responses ofthe males and females in the study, they found that physical appearance wasmuch more likely to be important for men in choosing both a dating and marriagepartner. For females, similarities in education and occupation was very importantin choosing a dating partner, but when choosing a potential spouse similarreligious values, age, education, marital status, desire for children, andoccupation were all very important. Finally, the respondents in the study felt that
homogamy was unlikely to make a marriage boring, rather it would lead tohappier more fulfilling relationships. Age homogamous marriages have been on the increase since 1900. In1900, almost half of all marriages were age heterogamous involving the husbandbeing five or more years older than his wife. By 1960 this had decreasedconsiderably to about one third of marriages and by 1980 to only a little morethan 25 percent. Between 1900 and 1980, the percentage of marriages in whichthe husband and wife were homogamous in age (+I-4 years) rose from 37.1% to69.9% (Atkinson & Glass, 1985). The 2000 Census Data did, however, show aslight decline in age homogamous marriages to 60.2% (U.S. Census Bureau,2000). Even with the moderate decline in age homogamous marriages from1980 to 2000, almost two thirds of all marriages in the United States arecharacterized by age homogamy. There may be several explanations for this decline in heterogamousmarriages, especially in those where the husband is 5 or more years older. Oneof these, noted by Atkinson and Glass (1985), is due to an increase in genderequality in this country. As women become more equal in society they are lesslikely to conform to traditional gender roles and patterns, therefore, foregoing theusual pattern in marriage where the male is older than the female. One reasonfor the large number of male-older marriages in the early 1900s is due to the factthat younger women were looking for a man who was financially stable and ableto provide for a family since a large proportion of women did not work outside thehome at that time. As women become more equal in the workplace, as well as
begin to close the income gap, the need for this quality in a mate would thendecrease.Heterogamy The politics of heterogamy in marriage are still being debated to this day.Does heterogamy necessarily mean that a marriage is doomed from the start?Is, perhaps, variety really the spice of life? Are some marriages, in which theheterogamous characteristics vary, more likely to survive than others? A studyconducted about the factors that affected marital quality over time showed thatmarital heterogamy in general has increased significantly between 1980 and2000. The instances of mixed racial and age discrepant relationships have risenmuch more significantly than differences in religious values and education levelshave. Overall, however, it was shown that heterogamous marriages are morelikely to be unhappy than those that are homogamous (Amato, Johnson, Booth,& Rogers, 2003). Given these results, the question whether or not the reason forthis unhappiness is due to actual incompatibility or instead to the societalpressures for not marrying someone similar in characteristics must be raised. In contrast to the above research, Vera et al. (1985) outlined a study ofage heterogamy in marriage that yielded vastly different results in marital quality.They found when comparing gender, age, race and socioeconomic status thatthese had no effect on the marital quality of couples from many different agediscrepant categories. In this study the researchers also found that ageheterogamous relationships are not necessarily predominantly just common to
middle and upper class relationships as had been rationalized in the past, ratherthat they are most prevalent among those who are in the lower classes. The tendency to marry someone who is of the same race, age, religionand socioeconomic status is very strong in our society, so when people strayfrom this general rule of thumb it is only natural that we wonder why someonehas done this. Certainly it is more acceptable today for people of differentbackgrounds to marry one another than it was even two or three decades ago. Itis even glamorized in Hollywood. Notting Hill is a movie about a famous actressfalling in love with a man who owns a bookstore. It depicts how two people whohave vastly different backgrounds manage to fall in love despite the fact that theyare from separate worlds. My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding is another movie that isan example of this. In a comedic way it shows how two people from differentbackgrounds can fall in love and get married, and maintain a happy relationshipdespite their difference in religious beliefs. The Hollywood stars are also portrayed in the media as the "latest fashion"in relationships when they stray from the rigid social code to marry someone withsimilar characteristics and begin partnerships with those who are much differentfrom them. Anna Nicole Smith was among these celebrities who was all over thenews when she married a man old enough to be her grandfather, and of course,in the eyes of society, the only reason she did it was for the wealth, power, andprestige. Why wouldnt the reason simply have been because she loved him?One of societys popular beliefs about marriages in which the husband issignificantly older than his wife is that he is marrying a "daughter image". This
comes from the idea that women who are much younger than their husbandsneed an older, stronger man to depend on for security and comfort, much like adaughter would depend on her father (Vera, Berardo, & Berardo, 1985). Recently many women have also been in the spotlight for marrying ordating men who are significantly younger than they are. Demi Moore, JoanLunden, Madonna, and Courtney Cox Arquette are just some of these examples.Vera et al. (1985) cite that society looks down upon these relationships becauseof the incest taboo. In essence, the large age difference between the womanand the man is seen as a motherlson relationship. While the involvement is notincestual by nature in this case, it does tend to remind people of this idea.Certainly, the media coverage these celebrities are getting is more than just theglamour effects of their age discrepant relationships, it is also societys way ofsaying that they have broken the norm and ventured outside the boundaries ofacceptable practices in dating and marriage. According to Shehan, Berardo, Vera, & Carley (1991), 22 percent ofweddings performed every year in the United States involve women who areolder than their husbands. In one county in Florida, a study that was conducteddetermined that almost one in four marriages involved an older woman marryinga younger man. This is a relatively surprising statistic given the apprehension tosuch marriages in our society. Certainly this reported data about such a largenumber of marriages involving women who were older than their husbands couldbe skewed, and therefore, might actually be due to the fact that different studieslook at different age gaps (e.g. one looks at 5 or more years age difference, and
others look at only 2 or more), and thus the percentages of this type of marriagecan vary greatly in the literature. The greater the difference in age classificationbetween the spouses, the less likely as many marriages will fall into the ageheterogamous category (Shehan et al., 1991). Another study of 1,407 single men and 2,094 single women, aged 40 to69, conducted for the AARP, reported that 20 percent of the women surveyedwere dating, or had recently dated a man that was 5 or more years younger thanthey were (Montenegro, 2003). This certainly shows that increasingly morewomen who are single during midlife are turning to younger men forcompanionship.Type of Persons Engaging in Age Heterogamous Relationships When looking at age heterogamous relationships, many people havetheorized about why they exist. In particular researchers in the field have paidspecial attention to a number of predictors for this type of partnering. Factorssuch as race, ethnicity, education, and marital history are among these. Whilethe goal of this paper is to explore the issues that come up for in marriageswhere the women are older than their husbands, there is limited research solelyon this topic. However there have been just a few significant studies that look atage hypergamy (wife is younger than her husband) and age hypogamy (wife isolder than her husband) (Shehan, Berardo, Vera, & Carley, 1991). In looking at race and ethnicity, Shehan et al. (1991) found that blackwomen are much more likely than white women to be involved in marriageswhere they are 5 years or more older than their husbands, as well as marriages
where their husbands are 10 or more years older than they are. The sameresearchers also found that Spanish-American women were more likely thanother women to be 10 or more years younger than their husbands. Education also plays an important role in determining the likelihood that awoman will participate in an age heterogamous marriage. Social scientists havetheorized that an increase in education may be associated with an increase inthe tendency of women to participate in heterogamous relationships (Shehan etal., 1991). The idea being that these women would first of all marry later, thuslessening their pool or potential mates and increasing their likelihood of marryingsomeone younger, as well as possess more liberal ideas about marriage.However, Shehan et al. (1991) found that the opposite was the case in theirstudy. Instead, increased educational attainment for women was actuallynegatively correlated with the chances that a woman would be involved in eithera husband older or husband younger relationship. In other words, as educationfor women increases, the likelihood that she will be involved in an ageheterogamous relationship decreases. The same researchers also found thatwomen who are in educational heterogamous marriages, as well as those whoare in ethnically heterogamous marriages are much more likely to be 10 or moreyears younger than their husbands in comparison to their homogamouscounterparts. Finally, women who are in mixed race relationships are twice aslikely to be much younger than their partners. According to the same study (Shehan et al. 1991) homogamousrelationships are most likely to occur for women who are participating in first
marriages. In contrast, women who are in second marriages were seven timesmore apt to be in relationships where they were older than their husbands. Forboth black and white women, remarriage increased the likelihood that they wouldparticipate in an age heterogamous relationship. Overall, white women whoparticipated in racial, ethnic, and educational heterogamous relationships werethe most likely to also participate in age discrepant marriages. Simply put,crossing one societal boundary increased the chance that they would be willingto cross others. In a study discussed by Atkinson and Glass (1985), variables such aswifes education, wifes employment status, both husbands and wifesoccupational status, annual family income, race, rurality of residence, and wifescountry of birth were explored in relation to age discrepant relationships. In thisstudy data from the 1900, 1960, and 1980 U.S Census was compared. As wasdiscussed earlier, there were many more age heterogamous marriages in 1900than there were in 1980 with most being husband-older. The comparison of data showed that in 1900 women who were 39 yearsof age or younger and married to men who were at least 5 years younger weremore likely to have been married longer than those who were similar in age andthose who were younger than their husbands by at least five years. Women,aged 40-64 who were in husband younger marriages were also more likely tohave been married longer as well as have been foreign born, and more likely tobe black than women married to men similar and older in age. Finally, like the
middle aged women, those who were ages 65 and older and married to youngermen, were more likely to be foreign born (Atkinson & Glass 1985). The 1960 census data showed that both women in the youngest agegroup, and those who were middle aged who had less education and had beenmarried 2 or more times, were the most likely to be in age heterogamousrelationships. The oldest age group involved the wifes number of marriages andthe husbands occupational status as a predictor of whether or not the womenwould participate in an age discrepant marriage (Atkinson & Glass, 1985). According to the 1980 census data, women aged 39 and under were mostlikely to be unemployed and have a low family income if they were involved in amarriage where they were older than their husband. Women who were betweenthe ages 40-64 and involved in a husband younger or husband older relationshipwere most likely to be black, have a low education level, and have the lowestfamily income. In general, the data from the 1900, 1960, and 1980 censusesshowed that women who were foreign born, had lower educational levels, familyincome, and occupational status, and were likely to be unemployed, black, andmarried more than once were significantly more likely to be involved in an agediscrepant marriage (Atkinson & Glass, 1985). In an analysis of British survey data collected in the late 19703s,researchers found that the data depicted a very unusual pattern in men andwomens marriage tendencies (Bytheway, 1981). In a comparison of allmarriages in England and Wales, it was found that men were least likely to marryolder women during their early twenties. However, middle-aged men (40-44
years) were most likely to participate in marriages in which they were youngerthan their wives. This tendency decreased dramatically for men in their mid tolate 60s and beyond. Women in their early twenties were least likely to marry ayounger man. Conversely, women aged 35-39 were the most likely to marryyounger men compared to those in other age categories. This pattern decreasedthroughout womens late forties, fifties and early sixties, with an increase again intheir early seventies (Bytheway, 1981). Bytheway (1981) theorizes that this pattern of marriage is due to the factthat there are some people who do not get married at the expected average ageand, thus, continue participating in the dating and social rituals that accompanysingle hood. Therefore, those who do this and remain unmarried into middle ageare likely to marry people younger than themselves. This tends to be particularlytrue for women more so than men.Issues Raised in Woman-Older, Age Heterogamous Marriages A study conducted by Seskin and Ziegler (1979) involved the interviewswith seventy-six women who were in woman-older relationships. The results ofthis study contained in Seskin and Zieglers book, Older WomenNounger Men,did not report any statistics, however, general themes were explored. Accordingto some of the women, a large part of their initial willingness to participate in asocially unaccepted relationship like this was the attractiveness of their partner.Many were attracted to the men simply because of their youth and the physicalattractions that accompany it. Others found the liveliness of their partners to bestriking mostly due to the fact that they were much younger. The woman
reported that one of the best parts about being involved in this type ofrelationship was that it made them feel younger. This was simply because theywere not with someone who was also at the same point in aging as they were,and thus the younger man was not necessarily worrying about aging because hewas not there yet, or at least not to an advanced point. However, the agedifference did raise some issues of insecurity for the women surrounding theirattractiveness when it came to intimacy. Even women who consideredthemselves to be in good shape, reported that they wondered if they couldcompare with the beauty that is associated with youth and still capture theiryounger partners attention. The women who participated in Seskin and Zieglers (1979) interviewsreported that they did feel the social pressures from both their peers and evenchildren (if they had any from a previous marriage) surrounding the type ofrelationship they were participating in. Like the rest of society many of thewomens friends could not understand why or how such a relationship couldwork, much less why the women were inclined to stay with their younger men.The women who had children from a previous relationship reported that theirchildren also felt embarrassed at the site of being with the couple in public,especially when the age difference was visibly noticeable. Certainly thesereactions play into the social definitions of what is and is not acceptable forrelationships. Vast age differences, especially in woman older relationshipsclearly violate the norms in this society.
Another interesting finding of these interviews was that many males whowere involved in relationships where their partner was older recalled having asexual experience with an older woman while they were only adolescents(Seskin and Ziegler, 1979). If these responses are accurate and are true formany husband younger relationships, perhaps then we can suggest that the menwho marry older women have always had a passion for them even from a veryyoung age. It may be no different than ones preference for a particular type ofperson. Many people are attracted only, or most often, to brunettes or blue-eyedmates, for example. Thus, an attraction to only, or mostly, older women maysimply be a matter of liking a particular type of person. There are many issues that come up in any type of marital relationship,but are there specific issues that are unique to husband-younger marriages?One issue that can be very prevalent in this type of relationship is money.Perhaps she makes more money than he does. This can certainly become aproblem, especially when society still says that the man should be the primarybreadwinner. A study of couples in long-term (five years and longer), woman-older relationships conducted by Brings and Winter (2000) found that the womenin their study felt badly about making more money than their partners, as well asalready being more financially sound because they were well established in theircareers, and in some cases it led to conflict between the couple, especially whenthey were dating. The women who were interviewed in Seskin and Zieglers(1979) study found that aging, particularly for the woman (if there was a visibleage difference), brought out many insecurities. The women did feel, however,
that the age difference did not play a very large role in everyday life, and wasable to be "brushed under the carpet". When they looked at the big picture, thewomen reported that the issue of age did come up periodically and was unable tobe completely forgotten by the couple. The study conducted by Brings and Winter (2000) also showed anotherissue that is unique to woman-older relationships. This involved thedevelopmental stage of the male in the relationship. Brings and Winterconcluded that men in their twenties who were dating older women may not beas ready to be involved in a committed relationship as older men are, simplybecause they are still discovering who they are and what they want out of life.Summary "Like attracts like" is a general rule of thumb for selecting dating andmarital partners. This theory tends to still be true in many relationships today. Inmost cases the person you will marry has a similar education and socioeconomicstatus, and is also the same race and age, with the man in the relationship beingabout 2 years older than his partner. However, there has been a shift from thealmost purely homogamous relationships of the 40s, 501s,and 60s to the moreheterogamous relationships of the 801s,gos, and today. Mixed racial and ethnicas well as interfaith marriages have certainly become more widely practiced aswell as accepted in todays society. Husband older relationships are customary,especially when the age difference is only a few years. However, even when itmeans that the husband is significantly older, we, as a culture, are much morelikely to accept it than if the age difference was the opposite case.
While the literature on age discrepant relationships is very limited anddeserves further research that is more recent, some of its findings are verysignificant. Race, ethnicity, education levels, participating in one or moreprevious marriages, employment status, and if a woman was foreign born are allfactors that contribute to the likelihood that a woman would participate in an agediscrepant marriage. As the British survey data indicates, women who havereached their late thirties, and men who are in their early forties also have thebest chance of choosing a husband younger relationship. Age discrepant marriages that involve women who are older than theirhusbands can be just as rewarding and happy as all other relationships. Itappears that only societal pressures and the couples ability to acknowledge andignore these distinctions inevitably keep these marriages from being the same asany other. Attitudes toward husband younger relationships are slowly beginningto change as more are reported. However, much more time is needed for anythis type of age discrepant relationship to be fully accepted in society. Moreresearch is certainly needed in this area to be able to completely determine whatfactors inevitably lead a person to enter into a husband younger relationship, andalso what issues are raised for the couple as a direct result of this age difference.Purpose of Study and Research Questions The purpose of this study was to gain insight into the issues that arise inmarriages in which the woman is significantly older than her husband. Morespecifically, this research focused on three research questions:
Research Question 1:What impact has the age difference (specifically because the woman is significantly older) had on the relationship? Research Question 2: What issues are presented by the couples involved in age heterogamous marriages in which the woman is older? Research Question 3: Do husbands and wives perceive different issues being raised within the context of the woman-older marriage? While a small number of studies have been conducted on this topic,those that present any scholarly results are out of date and are very limited intheir findings (Seskin & Ziegler, 1979). Very little has actually been reportedabout the issues that arise within these marriages. In the rare case that theyhave been reported they are not done in a statistical manner showing that acertain percentage of women or men in these marriages identify a particularissue, rather they only include brief stories given by the couples that wereinterviewed (Seskin & Ziegler, 1979; Brings & Winter, 2000). Furthermore, veryfew men have actually been interviewed about their perception of being involvedin a woman-older marriage, and none of the research shows a comparisonbetween men and women about what they perceive to be the issues that areraised. Most of the research conducted has been done regarding the "type" ofpeople who are likely to engage in an age discrepant relationship where thewoman is older than her husband (Atkinson & Glass, 1985; Bytheway, 1981;Shehan, Berardo, Vera, & Carley, 1991; Vera, Berardo, & Berardo, 1985).Further investigation is needed to determine the impact that the woman being
significantly older than her husband has upon the marriage as well as the issuesthat are unique to this type of relationship. Finally, further research on thedifference in perceptions between men and women who are involved in this typeof age discrepant relationship is also needed.
CHAPTER 3 METHODOLOGYSample The study consisted of interviews with eight married couples involved in arelationship where the woman is significantly older by eight or more years thanher husband. The husbands and wives were interviewed separately. Theconvenience sampling method was employed due to the difficulty of identifyingthe couples to be interviewed and because of the time limitations of the thesisproject. The participants were found through contacts with committee members,co-workers, acquaintances of the primary investigator, and word of mouth.Finally, an email was forwarded to several First Class conferences. SeeAppendix A: Recruitment Email. Demographics for the sample were obtained from questions 1-13 of theinterview protocol and are presented in Table 1. The couples in the sampleranged in age from 24 to 61, with males age ranging from 24 to 51, and femalesfrom 34 to 61. The age difference between the husband and wife ranged fromher being 8 years older to 17 years older. All but one participant identified theirracelethnicity as Caucasian (one male identified as Asian). Most couples couldbe described as middle class, with most having at least college education (1 1: I 6)and many holding professional positions (e.g., teacher, manager, computerprogrammer, professor, academic counselor). The age at the time of marriage for women ranged from 34 to 53 yearsold, with 75% of the women being in their late 30s and early 40s (6:8). For
Table1 : DemographicslDemonraphics of Children I I I
males, their age at marriage was 23 to 43 years old, with 75% of the men in theirearly to mid-20s (6:8) at the time of marriage. The couples had been marriedanywhere from 7months to 15 years, and dated from less than a year to 5 yearsbefore marrying. All couples knew about their significant age difference beforebecoming romantically involved. Many of the women (6:8) had been married atleast once before, while most of the men (6:8) had never been marriedpreviously. For women, 75% (6:8) have had a previous romantic relationship with ayounger man, while 50% (4:8) of the men had a previous romantic relationshipwith an older woman. When asked if there was a trend of age-discrepantromantic relationships in their own family, 44% (7:16) of the participants saidthere was; four out of the seven were men who reported this trend in their family. In looking at children, only one couple did not have any children from thepresent or a previous relationship, and two other men never had children of theirown but became a stepfather to his wifes children from a previous marriage.Three of the couples have children from this marriage, while most (63%) broughtanywhere from one to three children from a previous relationship (5:8 couples).One of these couples had an adult child who never lived with them in this currentmarriage. The childrens ages ranged from 2 years to 35 years.Interview Procedure The interview consisted of 29 open-ended questions, and was approvedthrough the Human Subjects Committee at the University of Maine. SeeAppendix B: Interview Questions. Questions 1-13 in the interview protocol were
questions pertaining to demographics of the each individual interviewed.lnterview questions 14-18 explored the demographics of any children involved.Each interview question from 19-29 was asked to gather enough information toanswer the three major research questions. Specifically, interview questions 19-24 pertained to research question 1: What impact has the age difference(specifically because the woman is significantly older) had on the relationship?lnterview questions 25-29 pertained to research question 2: What issues arepresented by couples involved in age heterogamous relationships in which thewoman is older? The answers reported by the husband and wife, from interviewquestions 19-29 were compared in order to answer research question 3: Dohusbands and wives perceive different issues being raised within the context ofthe woman-older marriage?Interview Technique Couples who expressed interest in participating in this research weregiven a copy of the consent form before an interview was scheduled. Consentwas implied when they agreed to arrange an interview after reviewing theconsent form. See Appendix C: Informed Consent. Interviews with half (8 out of 16) of the participating couples wereconducted face-to-face either at the couples home or in a private conferenceroom on the University of Maine campus. When face-to-face interviews wereunable to be conducted, phone interviews were used for the other half of theparticipants. The interview took approximately one hour. During face-to-faceand phone interviews, notes were taken and the interviews were tape-recorded
when the participants were willing (half agreed to be taped). At the end of theinterview, subjects were given the opportunity to review their responses foromissions or clarifications. Participants were assured that any and all responses would be keptconfidential. No names were included in the data report; a code number wasassigned to each interview. The notes and tapes from the interviews were keptin the locked office of the researcher. Only the primary investigator and heradvisor had access to the interview notes.Data Analysis This was an exploratory study and was completed using a relatively smallsample of participants. Therefore, the major portion of the data analysis utilizeddescriptive statistics. Whenever possible, responses were analyzed andexamined for commonalities and differences.
CHAPTER 4 RESULTS The purpose of this study was to gain insight into the issues that areunique to marriages in which the woman is significantly older than her husband.The results for the three research questions are presented below.Research Question I The first research question asked, "What impact has the age difference(specifically because the woman is significantly older) had on the relationship?"Six questions (Q19-24) from the interview schedule pertained to this area.Results are presented in Table 2. The first question (Q19) asked participants toidentify the unique benefits of being in this type of relationship. The most typicalresponses included: she has more life experiencelmaturity (n=7), she is moreestablished in her careerlfinances (n=6), a younger man helps keep heryounglactive (n=3), and not being stuck in traditional roles (n=3). Two mentioneddeath and dying issues - one in reference to the husband being around for theirchild should she die earlier, while another couple discussed the advantage ofdying at the same time (noting that women typically live 10 years longer thanmen). Examples include: "She helped me through areas I was not mature in, and she had more life experience and perspective." (Husband, Couple #8) "She has herself established with where she was in her life - she had already established her professional career and owned her own home." (Husband, Couple #4)
Table 2: Results for Research Question 1l ~ h a Impact has the age difference (specifically because the woman is significantly older) t I -Life ExperienceIMaturity -She is more Establilshed in her CareerIFinances -Keeps her active -Not Stuck in Traditional Rolesr~uest6n 20: rawb backs -Aging -Social StigmaQuestion 23: Reactions -Family No lssues -Family lssues Childrens Reactions (5 Couples With Children Old Enough) -Children No lssues -Children lssues I
"He is an active person, and having a younger person helps me to be active." (Wife, Couple # 6 ) "By marrying a younger man I am going against the traditional idea that I should marry someone who is older and will take care of me." (Wife, Couple #4) The second question (Q20) asked couples to identify unique drawbacks tothis type of relationship. Two themes emerged: the issue of aging (as it relates tolooks, health, and being active) (n=7) and social stigma (n=4) attached to olderwomen being with younger men. "I am concerned about aging and him still wanting me when Im old and wrinkly, and I dont want to look like his mother. " (Wife, Couple #I > W e hesitate to tell others, for the most part, because we know how people have reacted in the past and the remarks that have been made. People are pretty close-minded." (Husband, Couple #5) The third question (Q21) asked the subjects if the age difference played arole in attracting them to their spouse. Six out of the sixteen participants saidthat the age difference had played a role in their initial attraction to their spouse,and three of the six noted that they had always been attracted to the agedifference. Examples include: "Yes, the novelty of it was great and I was really attracted to his boyish charm." (Wife, Couple #2).
"It did play a role in attracting me to her. Iguess you could say that Ive always had a thing for older women." (Husband, Couple #7) The fourth question (Q22) asked couples about who knows about theirage difference, and if it is something they keep or initially kept as a secret. Whileall of the couples reported that at least close friends and family were aware oftheir age difference, half of the couples (4:8) reported that they had somehesitancy around telling others about their age difference, especially in thebeginning of their relationship. Two examples include: All of our friends and family know. We didnt necessarily keep it as a secret, but we didnt say anything to family members until they got to know her first."(Husband, Couple #6) Everyone knows. Initially Ikept it as a secret and Ieven lied about his age. Ididnt tell my mother for a long time how young he actually was." (Wife, Couple #I ) The fifth question (Q23) asked about peoples reaction to the agedifference and the kinds of responses they received. While nine of the sixteenparticipants said that their family was fine, seven said that their family hadnegative reactions to the age difference, at least initially and especially themother. Four of these couples said that her parents were skeptical or against therelationship, and three couples identified that his parents expressed concern.Examples of family reactions include: "Her mother had big doubts about the relationship." (Husband, Couple #2)
"Our parents were absolutely dumbfounded and in disbelief about the relationship because we look so obviously different in age. " (Husband, Couple #3) "My parents werent bothered at all. In fact, m y father was happy that Ifound someone to love." (Wife, Couple #4) "His parents were concerned at first, but since his mother is 4 years older than his father, that helped." (Wife, Couple #6) This question also asked couples that had children about their childrensreaction. Five of the couples had children old enough to understand the agedifference. Three couples reported that their children had a negative reaction tothe relationship, at least initially, due to the fact that the husband is close in ageto her children from a previous relationship. One couple commented that theyhave had positive reactions from their children. Examples include: "Her kids think Im cool, but there are power struggles over who parents the kids because Iam close to their age." (Husband, Couple # I ) "We both had teens from previous marriages and have had good reactions, in fact m y daughter actually fixed us up!" (Husband, Couple #5) Three of the couples reported that their friends had reservations about therelationship (referring to it as "robbing the cradle"). On the other hand, one of theparticipants (Wife, Couple #5) noted that her friends saw it as a good thing"Thank god hes younger because shed kill someone her own age" (because
shes so active and its assumed that a man her age wouldnt be able to keepUP). The last question that pertains to research question one (Q24) asked ifage differences could be forgotten. Overall, most participants agreed (14:16)that age differences can be forgotten on a daily basis, however instances suchas birthdays, filling out forms that ask for ages, and talk of her retirement areexamples of times when age cannot be forgotten. Examples include: Yes, in everyday life it can be forgotten although it is always present underneath." (Wife, Couple #2) "No, I dont think so. I think about it occasionally and I have concerns about not wanting to be a burden on him later in life." (Wife, Couple #6)Research Question 2 The second research question asked, "What issues are presented by thecouples involved in age heterogamous marriages in which the woman is older?"Five questions (Q25-29) from the interview schedule pertained to this area.Results are presented in Table 3. The first question (Q25) asked if theparticipants had doubts about continuinglpursuing the relationship once theydiscovered the age difference, and if so what issues were raised. Nine of thesixteen participants stated that they did have doubts about continuing therelationship because of the age difference, while seven did not. The mostcommon reasons for doubting identified were about her aging (n=4), acceptanceby family (n=3), and having a pre-made familylstep-parenting (n=3).
Table 3: Results for Research Question 2l ~ h a Issues are presented by the couples involved in age heterogamous marriages in which t 1 -No DoubtsQuestion 28: When Does Age Come Issue -Work/Career -Power Struggles -Money -Interests Other -Fertility -No More Children
The age difference seems small now, but I feel that it will be a bigger issue later in life as she grows older and begins to break down." (Husband, Couple #8) "I had doubts about my familys reaction to the age difference especially since my son is only a few years younger than him. I was also worried about my daughter not liking it." (Wife, Couple #3 ) "I did have doubts about marrying into a pre-made family and wondered if I really wanted to marry into this." (Husband, Couple ) #I The second question (Q26) asked if the age difference affected intimacyespecially around experience and attractiveness. Twelve of the sixteen subjectsstated that they did not have any issues with intimacy because of the agedifference; while four stated that it was an issue for them (two were related toexperience; two were related to attractiveness). Examples included: "She had been with more people and this was a concern for me." (Husband, Couple #2) "There are body issues around not feeling slim and trim and its a struggle to keep a youthful body." (Wife, Couple #6) "There are issues around her lack of experience because there is a decade of difference in things that are acceptable." (Husband, Couple #8)
The third question (Q27) asked if the age difference was a bigger issue forhimlher or their spouse. Five participants did not see this as an issue for eitherof them, however eight reported that it was a bigger issue for her (5 husbandsand 3 wives said this). Only three subjects reported that it was a bigger issue forhim (2 husbands and 1 wife said this). Examples include: Xge difference is bigger for her because she is concerned about me finding her attractive when we get older. " (Husband, Couple #I1 "I am very self-conscious that I look older than he does. " (Wife, Couple #5). The fourth question (Q28) asked couples to identify when age comesup as an issue particularly in areas such as worklcareer, power struggles,money, and ageldevelopmental issues. Only two couples felt that there wereissues related to worklcareer. Three couples identified power struggles due tothe age difference as an issue in their marriage. No couples identified money asan issue, even though in three relationships she makes more than he does. Fourof the eight couples identified different interests due to their ageldevelopmentaldifferences; all four of the couples stated that they have different music andtelevision/movie interests. Three examples include: "I felt pressure to establish my own career because she was so established; she wasnt going to wait around for me to get my act together." (Husband, Couple #4)
"He treats me like a parent and once in a while hell even call me mom by accident." (Wife, Couple #3) "We have different music and TV interests. Let me put it this way, I saw the original Brady Bunch and he saw the re-runs." (Wife, Couple #4) Other issues identified by the participants centered on fertility (biologicalclock) as well as her not wanting to have any more children. Half of the couplesraised these as concerns. "By the time we met and married my biological clock had already run out so we missed out on having children. " (Wife, Couple #6) Age made a difference when we were deciding to have kids. Because of my age, I didnt want to wait, he would have liked to wait a while." (Wife, Couple # 8 ) "She already had children and doesnt want any more kids, even though I would like to father my own children." (Husband, Couple #2) Finally, the last question (Q29) asked participants what advice they wouldgive to other couples entering into this type of marriage. A list of suggestions canfound in Table 4. The advice ranged from not letting age be a factor, to beingrealistic and aware of the differences that may exist. One of the themes that wasmost apparent in the advice given was that the subjects felt participating in awoman-older relationship was certainly something that they would recommend toothers, but that it was important for them to know what they were getting into.
Table 4: Advice for People Entering This Type of Marriage (Question 29) - "Know what you want: dont try to make people younger or older, just let them be who they are."I - "Be prepared for the nasty comments." - "Be prepared that there are people who dont approve." - "Go for it if you can set the differences aside". - "Work out her being a mother." - "Dont worry about what others think, you are the ones who have to be happy." - "If its going to be successful you have to make sure that you get past the age difference because it could be destructive. This is the best way to be successful." - "If the guy gets hung up on the fact that they girl is older then it wont work." - "The guy has to accept the fact that he needs to have a healthy ego and not fall into traditional roles." - "To some extent age shouldnt matter, its how you get along with someone". - "As long as you dont mind, Id say it would be alright." - "You have to make up your own mind, it depends on the individual." - "There are differences and they will exist and adding age is another issue you have to work around. You have to work around it and work together. Watch out because age can apply to interests and to children." - "A good friend told me that what matters is that we are in the same place." - "Cant disregard people because of their age." - "Take things day by day and dont let it consume you." - "It can make things more interesting." - "Follow your heart and dont stop talking: communicate." - "Pretend each day is your honeymoon." - "Im doing what men have been doing for centuries." - "Shouldnt put your head in the sand." - "Go into it with eyes wide open and be realistic." - "While it may not be an issue for you, it may be for others so you need to be secure in your relationship." - "Be glad that you arent in a stereotypical relationship; its great for women." - "Be careful about not putting the person in the parent role and the other in the child role." - "Put the age issue behind them. A relationship isnt based on numbers. Any relationship i: built on morals and important commonalities." - "I would not let age enter into it." - "lts a hard thing to do. Take a look again at your goals and objectives, but play them against each others while looking at moving into older age." - "lts about the level of trust you have for each of you that the relationship will last." - "You have to be very honest when combining households. You have to look at what you are letting go of and its important to discuss what has sentimental value." - "Same as to anyone getting married: take time to get to know the person and love and respect them. Age doesnt matter." - "Dont let social conventions about older women and younger men get in the way."
Another theme that emerged was to be aware of what society was thinking andto be prepared for the social stigma that surrounds this type of relationship.Research Question 3 The third research question asked, "Do husbands and wives perceivedifferent issues being raised within the context of the woman-older marriage?"Eleven questions (19-29) from the interview protocol pertained to this area.There were no differences between what husbands and wives had to say inseveral areas including whether they hesitated to tell anyone about theirrelationship (Q22), their family and childrens reactions (Q23), impact on theirintimacy (Q26), and when age comes up as an issue (Q28). However, there were a number of differences in the way wives andhusbands responded to several questions that may indicate a variation in theirexperience within this type of marriage as presented in Tables 2 and 3. Inquestion 19 there was a difference between what men and women identified asbenefits of being involved in a woman-older marriage. Men overwhelminglydescribed the woman having life experience as being a benefit (6:8 as comparedto 1:8 women). Men also identified more often than women that her being moreestablished in her careerlfinances was also a benefit (4:8 as compared to 2:8women). In question 20 women identified more often than men the social stigmaas a drawback to this type of relationship than men (3:8 women and 1:8 men). Question 21 asked the husbands and wives if the age difference attractedthem to their spouse. While the men identified more often than the women thatthe age difference attracted them to their spouse (4:8 men said yes and 2:8
women said yes), the women identified more often that his younger age was nota factor in her attraction to him (6:8 women said no and 4:8 men said no). Whenasked if age difference can be forgotten (Q24), more men than women said yes(8:8 men and 6:8 women). Question 25 asked if the participants had doubts aboutcontinuing/pursuing the relationship, and the wives were much more likely to saythat they did have doubts (7:8) as compared to the men who said they had nodoubts (6:8). When asked if age difference is a bigger issue for your or yourspouse (Q27), the husbands were much more likely to identify the wives ashaving the bigger problem (5:8), whereas the wives were more likely to say thatneither of them saw the age difference as a big issue (4:8).
CHAPTER 5 DISCUSSION This study provided some insight into the lives of eight married couplesinvolved in an age-heterogamous relationship where the wife was eight or moreyears older than her husband. The interviews explored three major areas ofinterest: the impact that age has difference has on the relationship, the issuesthat arise for the couple, and any differences in husbands and wives experience.The results will be discussed below as well implications for couples in this type ofrelationship and further research. Limitations for this study will also be noted. The couples that were interviewed in this study supported much of theresearch in regards to who these women are that marry a man who issignificantly younger. As previous studies have found, these women tend to beeducated (Atkinson and Glass, 1985), marry later in life (Shehan et.al., 1991),and in a second marriage (Shehan et.al., 1991). In fact, six of the eight womeninterviewed for this study had at least a college education, were in their late 30sto early 40s when marrying their husband, and had been married at least oncebefore. In addition one study (Seskin & Ziegler, 1979) found that womenreported that they had been attracted to younger men in the past. In fact in thisstudy six of the women interviewed for this study had been previously involvedwith younger men. It is interesting to note that many of the couples that were interviewedappeared to be similar in age and therefore no one would ever guess that therewas such a difference. This might explain why so many of the couples did not
see their relationship as a big challenge unless they told others about their agedifference.Research Question 1 The literature on the topic of age-heterogamous relationships in which thewoman is significantly older than her husband is scarce and much of theliterature that does exist is either outdated or has only determined what "type" ofperson engages in this kind of marriage (Atkinson & Glass, 1985; Bytheway,1981; Seskin & Ziegler, 1979; Shehan, Berardo, Vera, & Carley, 1991; Vera,Berardo, & Berardo, 1985). One study (Seskin & Ziegler, 1979) briefly explored the impact that thatage difference can have on the relationship and identified that many womenreported feeling social pressures from their friends and family. This finding wassupported by the present research in which almost half of the women reportedthat the social stigma surrounding the woman-older marriage was a drawback tothe relationship. Further, half of the men and women reported that their familyand children had problems, at least initially, with their marriage because of itsunconventional nature. This study also found that half of the couples reportedthat they were hesitant to tell their friends and family about their relationship. In addition, Seskin & Ziegler (1979) also found that many women inwoman-older relationships reported that they are attracted to younger men.However the present study found that it wasnt the women, but actually was themen. Half of the men reported that they had dated an older woman and were
specifically interested in her because of her age. Unfortunately, there is littleresearch on the men who date and marry these women. The couples interview in this study were asked if it was possible to forgettheir age difference and the overwhelming majority of the couples reported that itwas possible on a daily basis, but overall the age difference could not beforgotten. This supported Seskin and Zieglers (1979) research who found intheir study that age difference did not play a very big role in every day life, andwas able to be "brushed under the carpet." However the women in their studynoted that when they looked at the big picture, the issue of age did come upperiodically and they were unable to forget it completely. In the present study,this was found to be true for the women and also true for the men.Research Question 2 There were several issues presented by the couples from the interviews inthis study. Women had more doubts about entering into a women-olderrelationship because of that fact she will age sooner. Some women alsoidentified that intimacy was affected by the age difference and reported thatattractiveness was the biggest issue. These finding are supported by one study(Seskin & Ziegler, 1979) that found the issues that came up for women includedissues surrounding her aging sooner and intimacy, particularly attractiveness. When asked if age became an issue around work, power, money, orinterests it was more frequently reported to be an issue for the couple in terms oftheir different developmental stages and, therefore, reported differences ininterests (e.g. music and television). This supports previous research by Brings
& Winter (2000). Interestingly enough money was not reported by any of thecouples as an issue, despite previous research that stated her making moremoney was the most common source of conflict in this type of marriage (Seskin& Ziegler, 1979). In fact, many men in this study reported her making moremoney to be an advantage rather than a problem. It might be important to notethat the previous research was conducted in 1979 and the current findings mightsuggest that times have changed. One area that has not been mentioned in the research, but was mentionedby half of the participants, related to issues of fertility and her not wanting to havemore children. Several noted that by marrying at the end of the womans fertileyears their "biological clock" had run out. Due to the nature of this type ofmarriage it seems obvious that this would be a major concern and certainly onethat should be looked into in further research. Finally, all of the couples in this study shared advice for those couples thatmay be entering into this type of marriage. The couples acknowledged that asocial stigma still exists around this type of marriage. The overwhelming contentof the advice centered on being realistic about the age difference, andrecommended that you confront and deal with it directly.Research Question 3 There is no information in the literature that has looked at how wives andhusbands perceive their woman-older marriage and what they see to be theissues that are raised within this marriage. This small exploratory study identifiedseveral things that differed between men and women and suggests that overall,
men and women may view their relationship and the issues raised within itsomewhat differently. An important finding to note about this study is that bothmen and women are affected by this type of marital arrangement, despite thefocus in the literature on just the women in these types of relationships. This study found that many men see her having life experience, maturity,and an established career as an advantage, which goes against the traditionalthinking that the man is supposed to be the one who is more established andmaking more money. In fact, the men in this study reported that they wereattracted to her because of the age difference. On the other hand, while it ismore acceptable for him to go against traditional roles, it is less acceptable forwomen. This study showed that women still continue to have more doubts, andthe age difference is seen as a bigger issue for her. In looking at the big picture about what all of this means, it is apparent thatthe social stigmas surrounding these woman-older marriages are still alive andwell. However, the couples in these relationships dont seem to be as botheredby the age difference as the rest of society is. Society places a lot of emphasison appearance, and the women in this sample seemed the most concernedabout aging and looking older. On the other hand, men did not appear to be asworried about this. The men in this study certainly go against the traditional rolesof men, but definitely viewed that as a benefit rather than a drawback to therelationship.
Implications Despite the fact that this was a small exploratory study, the findingsprovide some implications for professionals working with individuals and couples(e.g. counseling). Many issues were raised and important advice given in thisstudy. On a more negative side, it is essential to be aware of the social stigmathat still exists around this type of marriage and to note that she will carry thegreater burden of going against social conventions. Clearly, some couplesexperienced family disapproval and therefore it is extremely important to haveclear boundaries around their relationship. Due to the nature of this type ofmarriage where she is typically in her late 30s or early 40s, both pregnancy andparenting issues need to be addressed. On a more positive note, these findings suggest that a single womanshould recognize that there are men interested in a relationship with an olderwoman and they are not intimidated by the age difference. In addition, mostcouples in this type of relationship reported that it does not have to affectintimacy in any way. Finally, its important to realize that all relationships havetheir problems and it is essential not to jump to the conclusion that the agedifference doesnt have to be the reason. For further research it would be important to consider interviewing couplestogether as well as separately, and have all interviews face-to-face. This wouldprovide the researcher with a more complete picture of the relationship and theissues faced. It may be beneficial for future researchers to interview onlycouples that have no children from previous relationships due to the fact that
adding children into the mix may produce added confounding variables. It wouldalso be important for future research to compare man-older to woman-oldermarriages in order to determine if the issues being raised in the relationship arespecific to age or to gender roles. In addition, the results of this study made itclear that there are a number of areas that could be further explored such aspregnancy and parenting issues (such as having to have children soonerbecause of the "biological clock", not being able to have children, or not wantinganymore children), power struggles between the couple, and focusing moreclosely on the men in these relationships.Limitations This study was conducted locally and was a small, nonrandom sample ofconvenience, and therefore cannot be generalized to any outside population.One limitation of this study may be that the researcher was a young female. Thismay have affected the way in which participants responded to the researcher.The participants were also mostly Caucasian (with the exception of one); issuesraised by couples of different raceslethnicities may be dissimilar. The sample,overall, was highly educated and this may have skewed the results. A moreeven level of education for the sample may have brought forth other issues. Thevariety in length of marriage and wide range of age differences in this samplemay also be a further limitation. Sample groups that were more homogamous inthese may have yielded different results. Only half of the participants could be interviewed face-to-face, and fewwere willing to be tape-recorded. The interview format of this research may have
caused potential subjects to be more reluctant to participate in this research, aswell as for those who participated to be embarrassed and, therefore, not be asforthcoming in the interview. Also the mixed method of interviewing may haveyielded different answers because of the different formats. The analysis of data in this study might be a further limitation. Theresearch yielded a wide variety of responses that were analyzed for themes andpatterns. This was difficult because the researcher used her own subjectiveideas to classify and categorize the responses. Researcher bias may havedistorted the interpretation of the responses. However, since the primaryresearcher collaborated with another researcher, this may have helped tominimize the bias. Many of the results focused on the negative impact that the woman-olderrelationship has on the wife. This may be due to the fact that there was anegative bias in the questions focusing on her being older in the relationshiprather than on him being younger. This may explain why the responses tendedto have a more one-sided focus on how this type of marriage affects her. Thiscan be seen most obviously in the wording of question 28. For example, whenasked if there are worklcareer issues, the prompt given is that she may have amore prestigious career and that she may be more established. Despite all the limitations, this research has opened the door to an areathat is little explored and in need of further research. Clearly society haschanged in such a way that has made this type of relationship less of ananomaly. As the 2003 AARP study found, 20% of women aged 40 to 69 are
dating younger men (Montenegro, 2003). This is clearly an area that is untappedfor research. This trend of woman-older marriage may certainly reflect the changingculture and family structure. If this is true and families are changing along withcultural attitudes then we are likely to see this trend continue, not only within age-heterogamous relationships, but across all racial, ethnic, religious, orientation,and other boundaries.
REFERENCESAmato, P., Johnson, D. R., Booth, A., Rogers, S. J. (2003). Continuity and change in marital quality between 1980 and 2000. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 65; 1-22.Atkinson, M. P., Glass, B. L. (1985). Marital age heterogamy and homogamy, 1900 to 1980. Journal of Marriage and the Family,47, 685-69 1.Brings, F., Winter, S. (2000). Older Women, Younger Men. New Horizon Press; Far Hills, New Jersey.Bytheway, W. R. (1981). The variation with age of age differences in marriage. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 43, 923-927.Houston, V. (1987). Loving a Younger Man. Contemporary Books, Inc.; New York, New York.Kerckhoff, A. C., Davis, K. E. (1962). Value consensus and need complimentarity in mate selection. American Sociological Review, 27, 295-303.Knox, D., Britton, T., Crisp, B. (1997). Age discrepant relationships reported by university faculty and their students. College Student Journal, 31, 290- 292.Knox, D., Zusman, M., Nieves, W. (1997). College students homogamous preferences for a date and mate. College Student Journal, 31, 445-448.Montenegro, X. P. (2003). Lifestyles, dating and romance: a study of midlife singles. AARP: The Magazine, 1-16.Picket, L.S. (2003). In praise of your men. 0 : The Oprah Magazine, 83-88.Seskin, J., Ziegler, B. (1979). Older WomenNounger Men. Anchor Press/Doubleday; Garden City, New York.Shehan, C. L., Berardo, F. M., Vera, H., Carley, S. M. (1991). Women in age- discrepant marriages. Journal of Family Issues, 12, 291-305.Vera, H., Berardo, D. H., Berardo, F. M. (1985). Age heterogamy in marriage. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 47, 553-566.
APPENDIX A RECRUITMENT EMAlL Hi. My name is Nichole Proulx-King, and Im a second year graduatestudent in Human Development. Im working on my masters thesis thissemester. The topic of my thesis deals with the impact of age differences inmarriage. More specifically, I am looking at the issues that are raised within themarriage, as well as by those people outside the marriage, when the woman issignificantly older than her husband. I am currently looking for couples to interview in which the female partneris older than her husband. The woman must be at least 8 or more years olderthan her husband, and the couple must be married. The interviews will be about an hour long, and will consist of questionsabout the demographics of the couple (e.g. age, race, education, length ofcourtship, etc.), demographics of any children (e.g. number of children, age,etc.), benefits and drawbacks to this type of relationship, peoples reactions tothis relationship (e.g. who knows, their responses, etc.), and finally when doesage come up as an issue (e.g. worklcareer, power struggles, etc.). Theinterviews will be kept completely confidential, and no names will appear in mythesis. If you or someone you know is involved in a marriage where the woman issignificantly older than the man and would consider participating in this research,please feel free to contact me on first class at firstname.lastname@example.org.
APPENDIX B INTERVIEW QUESTIONSDemographics:1. What is your age?2. What is your sex?3. What is your race?4. What is your occupation(s)?5. How old were you when you married your current partner?6. How long have you been married to your current partner?7. How long were you romantically involved with your current partner before getting married?8. When did you discover the age difference: before or after becoming romantically involved?9. How many times have you been married before this current marriage?10. For women: Have you had a previous romantic relationship with a younger man?11. For men: Have you had a previous romantic relationship with an older woman?12. Is there a trend of age-discrepant, romantic relationships in your family?13. Do you have children?Demographics of children (if applicable):14. How many children do you have?15. How old are your children?16. Are your children from a previous relationship?17. Do you have children with your current partner?18. Do (or did) your children live with you and your spouse?Impact of the age difference:19. What do you see as the unique benefits of this relationship?20. What do you see as the unique drawbacks to this relationship?21. Did the age difference play a role in attracting you to your spouse? If so, explain.22. Who knows about the age difference? Is it something you keep as a "secret"?23. If people know: How have these people reacted to the age difference? What are the kinds of responses you get when people find out. If children are involved: What has been their reaction to your age difference?24. Can age differences be forgotten? Explain.Issues surrounding the age difference:25. Did you have doubts about continuinglpursuing the relationship once you found out about the age difference? If so, what issues were raised and did these cause problems?26. How did the age difference affect intimacy (i.e. were there issues surrounding experience, attractiveness, etc.)?27. Is the age difference a bigger issue for you or your spouse?28. When does age come up as an issue? Examples: Worklcareer issues? (e.g., she has more prestigious career? More established?) Power struggles (e.g., he treats her more like parent; she treats him like child) Money issues (e.g., she makes more than he does) Ageldevelopmental issues? (e.g., differences in music interests, TV interests, social interests) Other issues unique to this type of relationship?29. What advice would you give to people who are entering into this type of marriage?
APPENDIX C INFORMED CONSENTYou are invited to participate in a research project being conducted by Nichole Proulx-King, agraduate student in the department of Human Development at the University of Maine. Thepurpose of this research is to examine the impact that significant age differences between womenand men, specifically when the woman is older than her husband, has on marriage, as well as theissues that surround this type of age difference.What will you be asked to do? If you decide to participate, you will be interviewed about yourexperience in participating in a woman-older marriage. With your permission, I will audiotape theinterviews. The interview will take approximately one hour to complete. Questions will includesuch topics as: demographics of the couple (e.g. age, race, education, length of courtship, etc.),demographics of any children (e.g. number of children, age, etc.), benefits and drawbacks to thistype of relationship, peoples (friends, family, etc.) reactions to this relationship (e.g. Who knows?What were their responses?), and finally when does age come up as an issue (e.g. worklcareer,power struggles, etc.).Risks. Other than the possibility that you may become uncomfortable answering some of thequestions, there are no foreseeable risks to participating in this research. You may decline toanswer any of the questions with which you are not comfortable.Benefits. While this study may have no direct benefit to you, there is very little research in thisarea, and it will help us to learn more about the issues that arise and are unique to relationshipsin which the woman is significantly older than her husband.Confidentiality. Your name will not be included in any of the documents, instead a code numberwill be used to protect your identity. No names should be used during the interview, and nonames or, to the extent possible other identifying information will be included in my thesis orsubsequent reports. The investigators notes and tapes from the interview will be kept in a lockedoffice and destroyed after they are no longer needed. Only the investigator and her advisor willhave access to this information.Voluntary. Participation in this research is voluntary. If you choose to take part in this study, youmay stop at any time during the study. You also have the choice to skip any questions you do notwish to answer.Contact Information. If you are interested in being interviewed, or if you have anyquestionslconcerns, please contact the primary investigator, Nichole Proulx-King at 207-827-0459, or emailing at:email@example.com.You may also contact the faculty advisor of this study, Dr. Sandra Caron by calling 207-581 -3138or emailing her at:firstname.lastname@example.orgIf you have any questions about your rights as a research participant, please contact GayleAnderson, Assistant to the University of Maines Protection of Human Subjects Review Board, at207-581-1498 or email:gayle.Anderson@umit.maine.edu.
BIOGKAPHY OF THE AUTHOR Nichole Proulx-King is the daughter of Raymond and Patricia Proulx andwas born on July 14, 1979, in Laconia, New Hampshire. Nichole spent most ofher childhood in Biddeford, Maine and graduated from Biddeford High School inJune of 1997. Nichole completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology at theUniversity of Maine in May of 2002 and immediately began her HumanDevelopment Masters degree in the fall. Nichole worked as a GraduateTeaching Assistant for the department of Human Development during her twoyears as a graduate student and will be beginning employment as a home-basedfamily counselor in June. She is a candidate for the Master of Science degree inHuman Development from the University of Maine in August, 2004.