younger women older men or are the times changing?

In the period 1906-1910, the average age at marriage was 26.3 for women and 29.8 for men. Thus, men were 3.5 years older than their wives on average (applies to all marriages, both between those who had not previously been married and those who had). This pattern remained fairly stable for almost 50 years, both in terms of the age at marriage and the age difference between the bride and groom.

The age at marriage fell steadily during a period beginning around 1950 – the golden age of the nuclear family: up to the end of the 1960s, the men's age at the time of marriage fell by around 4 years to 26.5, and women's by around 3 years to 23.7. The age difference during this period also fell by a good six months.

At the beginning of the 1970s, however, this trend began to reverse: along with women's increasing education levels and participation in the labour force, more liberal abortion laws, better contraception, the increase in cohabitation outside marriage etc., the marriage age began to increase. Today, in 2002, the average age of men at the time of marriage is 35.5, and women are 32.1 on average. The increase has therefore been slightly higher for men, and the age difference between men and women is back to about the same level as 100 years ago, i.e. 3.5 years.

Similar age differences (where the man is 2-4 years older) exist in most countries and for most periods, and these differences are often explained in the following way:

# Girls mature at an earlier age than boys and will therefore tend to marry somewhat older men
# Traditionally, it has been the men that have provided for the family. An age difference of 2-3 years has reflected a traditional division of labour between the sexes, where the man has not been able to marry before he was capable of providing for a family.

younger women older men dating

Seemingly, the numerous and significant changes in the relationship between men and women in the last 30-40 years – especially in terms of education, participation in the labor force and income – have therefore been of little consequence with regard to the age difference at the time of marriage.

On the one hand, it could be expected that the increase in gender equality in other areas would also lead to greater gender equality with regard to the age when couples start living together; i.e. a more equal age distribution. On the other hand: to the extent that the traditional age difference was primarily that – a tradition – it could be expected that the 68 generations' rebellion against the parent generation's different forms of traditions and customs also would have led to an increased margin for greater age differences – both ways.

When the age difference between men and women appears to be constant, this is based on the average age of men and women at the time of marriage. However, this average does not necessarily reflect the age differences in individual marriages.

Example A: Man 31 Woman 29 = difference: 2 years
Man 29 Woman 25 = difference: 4 years i.e. average age difference: 3 years

Example B: Man 35 Woman 25 = difference: 10 years
Man 25 Woman 29 = difference: - 4 years i.e. average age difference: 3 years

In example A, the average age for men is 30, women 27 and the average age difference is 3 years. The average age in example B is the same, but here the man is much older than the woman, but in the other couple the woman is older than the man. Stable average age differences can thus conceal major changes in the direction of a greater variation: more older men who are marrying younger women – and vice versa: more women marrying younger men.
More variation?

In the figure to the right, marriages entered into in 1966 and 2002 are grouped according to the ages of the bride and groom.

In 1966, marriages where the man was 2-3 years older were typical and made up a quarter of all marriages entered into. The second largest group was marriages where the man was 4-5 year older (16 per cent). Next were marriages where the man was 1 year older or 6-9 years older. The percentage of marriages entered into where the man and woman were the same age therefore amounted to a relatively small minority of 10.5.

Overall, marriages where the man was older than the woman accounted for 75 per cent, whilst the women were older than the men in only around 14 per cent of the cases, where the age difference was mainly only 1-3 years.

By 2002, this picture had changed considerably: the dissipation in age difference has increased substantially. There are more marriages being entered into where the age difference is relatively high, and the percentage of "typical” or traditional age differences in the man's favour (where the man is 2-5 years older) has dramatically declined.

The proportion of marriages entered into where the man is more than 9 years older than the woman is the group that has increased the most; by almost double. Otherwise, the most striking aspect is the systematic increase in marriages entered into where the woman is older than the man. In 1966, these accounted for 14 per cent of the marriages, and in 2002, the woman was older than the man in every fifth marriage that took place. In relative terms, the increase has been greatest for the group where the woman is 4 years older or more; this group has increased from 3 to 7.5 per cent.

By Jan Erik Kristiansen