The Effects of Age Difference in Personal Relationships Mary Fulton

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I originally took this class when I noticed it was designed around APA style writing. This research paper is the assignment I have learned the most about APA style format while writing in this class. I really didn’t know where my research paper would take me when I started. When thinking about what to write my paper on I remembered a short news report I had seen on TV. It took quite a bit of research to find the information they used and in turn locating that actual article from the Max Planck institute. I started off looking at the health effects on the individuals in relationships with large age gaps. In my personal research I found that another hypothesis should maybe be stressed and researched: it is apparent that there are certain health side effects caused by stress. These stresses may even be caused by social pressures put on the women specifically in these relationships. Despite the shorter semester I am excited about how my final research paper turned out and I enjoyed this writing assignment. I learned a lot in English 2010 and would advise anyone wanting to know more about APA style writing to take this class. It involves an excellent mixture of individual and group work that helps you achieve better writing.

The Effects of Age Difference in Personal Relationships

Mary Fulton

English 2010 Summer 2010

A lot of people may say that age is a state of mind, that people are only as old as they feel. That is an upbeat and optimistic approach to aging. However, the question is does age apply when it comes to relationships. In many cultures throughout history it has been acceptable for a male to be the older person in a relationship. Issues can arise if the opposite happens: a younger man and an older woman. In addition, there can be some issues as well, if the male is many years older than the female. Extensive research has been compiled suggesting that women in marriages with partners where the age difference is significant suffer higher premature mortality rates. In fact these mortality rates are higher in relationships where the women are older than in relationships where the women are younger (Drefahl, 2010). Women should be aware of the issues that an age gap may introduce into any relationship, including overall aging, different life goals, generational upbringing, and social pressure. In other words, these varying outlooks on life can lead to a relationship ending before it has even really begun.

In theory age gaps relationships have the potential to work just like any other type of relationship whether it’s long distance, interracial or no gap at all. If a relationship doesn’t work it’s not necessarily because of the gap, it could be because of any number of reasons which any relationship could end. Why do some of these relationships work and with these age differences what are the leading complications? Is the generation gap is too big and clashing and negative endings are inevitable? Scientific research suggests that an age-dissonant relationship lasting long-term is possible so again the questions I want answered—why are there extreme health issues if scientifically it should work? What roles do our families, friends and society play in our choice in happiness and health?

Working Age-different Relationships

Individuality and Status

A primary reason these relationships can work like any interpersonal relationship is the potential commonality. When one person gets involved with another individual, they are both looking for characteristics the other possesses and attraction naturally follows. In a study done by Ariane Kemkes-Grottenthaler (2004) the sharing of common goals in a relationship can keep it strong. In her case studies Kemkes-Grottenthaler explains that age-dissonant couples with similar interests had the same success rate as couples with no age gap at all that had similar interests. Basically if the couple—whether and age gap existed or not—had mutual goals the chances of the relationship last was equal. Kemkes-Grottenthaler also discusses the data pertaining to the easier acceptance of older-men marriages as early as the year 1688. This acceptance of men-older relationships centuries ago happened though more commonly among women looking for high prospects in marriage to an older man with wealth and in return the man was looking for an heir. In today’s society age different relationships are becoming more common today and among the middle class. In other words, average financially secured individuals are more comfortable marrying for other reasons than just material comfort. Today we are witnessing more marriages brought on by individual desire rather than family duty or expectations.

A key part in the survival of age-different relationships is maturity and education. One dynamic that can strengthen a relationship is the common ground that is shared between two individuals. An important factor brought to attention in research done by Pyke & Adams (2010) is that the education level of both individuals involved effects the couples overall happiness. In a study they performed they calculated relationships with age gaps and their success rate based on their professional education level. If both individuals in a marriage had achieved a higher education the relationship had an eighty percent higher survival rate than if one was more educated than the other. They contributed this factor to the probable dominance felt when a mutual equality might have been better in an already socially questionable relationship.
Hormones and Aging

The most common factor as to why age-dissonant relationships survive is not a matter of compatibility but biology. The human brain increases or lessens certain hormones as one gets older. These hormone levels tend to changes our perceptions of wants and desires and can often even affect relationships with no age gap at all. In a case study Dr. Brizendine discusses in her book The Female Brain (2006) the changes in hormone levels and desires between men and women. In analyzing these changes and desires due to hormone balances or imbalances throughout life it causes one wonder why age-different relationships are not more common? Women approaching their mid-thirties have similar reactions to love, trust and comfort that men do in their mid-fifties. Another interesting part of the book is her case study on a female client, perimenopausal, who now had hormones telling her she was done taking care of everyone. Her brain is now telling her to adventure out, go back to school and pursue her dreams. She could potentially even run into a man twenty years her junior with hormones addressing the same kinds of wants and desires. In Summary, there is actually a lot of scientific information studied as to how two people with such a large difference in age can interact so perfectly. Her research presents cases as to why age-dissonant relationships can work and the reasons why they may not work.

In Dr. Brizendine’s second book The Male Brain (2010) she analyses the effects of hormone changes in males as they get older. These hormone changes have a direct effect on the way they interact as they get older or at least the way they respond to certain situations. In her studies she shows that certain hormones and their response to others can directly tie into relationship problems and or happiness. For example, in one of her most interesting case studies, a 58 year old man named John was in a relationship with a woman name Katie who was over twenty years his junior. She carefully documented his health, changes in energy, wants and desires. She also documented two interesting clashes that came up in this very relationship. First, was the obvious anger that his daughter—who was only six years younger than his new girlfriend—was displaying toward the relationship. Another interesting aspect was his reaction upon his younger girlfriend expressing a desire to have their own children. Over the next few months they broke up, but realizing he was in love with her he decided that having a new family wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Dr. Brizendine also goes on to state the excellent health benefits—for men in particular—to be part of a family. In short, there is a relation to older men and prolonged life in these older men with solid families. As men get older they tend to have the same desires and wants that younger women do, due to changes in hormone levels. These changes bring about different behaviors. Older men with families tend to live longer and feel more alive because they suddenly have a strong desire to be healthy and be a provider for their family.

Complications in Age-gap Relationships

Ethnic Differences and Financial Instability

May-December is a term used for relationships where the man is significantly older in age than the woman. There is research that discusses that until recently the attention given to these relationships was negative. They were looked upon as father-daughter or mother-son relationships. These unions were considered to be fraught with problems where power issues and clashing values would be obvious due to being raised in different generations. A study by Boyd and Li (2003), however, debates this view point. In an extensive research done in Canada they found that major problems in age-discrepant relationships were due to either ethnic differences or financial circumstances—primarily poverty. In other words, a great percentage of relationships with significant age gaps mostly came across problems when money or finances were concerned. The differences in suggested ways to save, spend and apply earned income cause major communication problems.

Primary Risk of Health Effects

Boyd and Li (2003) also verified the studies done by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (2010) that older men with younger women tend to live longer than their counterparts. However, in Boyd and Li’s (2003) article they analyze several studies in which age difference has little or no effect on the levels of marital satisfaction that in fact the pressures on the couple from outside sources can sometime create a rift where none existed. Sven Drefahl (2010) a researcher for the Max Planck Institute uses data from marriages with differing age gaps from both men and women over 87 years from 1920 to 2007. His goal was to analyze the age difference between partners and the affect on their survival. He develops relatively strong hypotheses about the relationship between the spousal age gap and the risk of dying. For men the findings regarding age gap to the spouse are relatively consistent. Male mortality rates increase when the wife is older than the husband and decreases when the wife is younger than the husband (Figure 1). Sven Drefahl (2010) hypothesized that the due to the care giving by the spouse and youth of the other partner the morality rate for women in the same situation would be similar, however, in his research he observed the opposite for women. In sum, then, despite which direction the age gap, younger-men-older-women or older-men-younger-women, the larger it becomes the greater the mortality rate for the women. Why in the situation of age-dissonant relationships does it only affect women negatively? What kind of stress and side effects are caused by the friends and family of the people involved that disagree with the relationship? In analyzing the graph (Figure 1) the younger partner in the relationship is the one that suffers an increase in the risk of dying younger.

Figure 1 (Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, 2010)

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