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Second Opinion:
Men's Health & Marriage

Hosted by Abigail Trafford
Washington Post columnist

Tuesday, Mar. 6, 2001; 2 p.m. EST

Welcome to Second Opinion, a weekly column and Live Online discussion with Post Health columnist Abigail Trafford. Congress has proposed the creation of an Office of Men's Health at the National Institutes of Health. That's because women live longer than men. The gap in life expectancy at birth is about 6 years. The legislation is billed as a Valentine's gift to both men and women. If men lived longer there wouldn't be so many older women living alone. Of course women want men to live longer so we can enjoy the golden years together. But the gap between the sexes is not just a longevity problem. The major reason for the imbalance between men and women in the later dedaces of life is because men tend to marry younger women as they get older.

That's what makes the gap so pronounced. The immediate solution?: men should marry women their own age or slightly older. And women should think twice before hooking up with a much older man.

Any signs that this is happening? To talk about marriage patterns in the new millenium is Andrew Cherlin, professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, to talk about marriage and remarriage patterns.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Abigail Trafford: Dr. Cherlin. Welcome to Health Talk. Today in the health section we talked about two gaps between the sexes. The life expectancy gap where women ten to outlive men. And the marital age gap where men tend to marry younger and younger women as they age. What is the impact of these two gaps on relationships between men and women in the last three or four decades of life--from age 50 on?

Andrew Cherlin: The effect is to create a "surplus" of unmarried, older women and a "shortage" of unmarried older men. Because it's OK for older men to (re)marry younger women, they tend not to choose older women.

Abigail Trafford: Welcome everybody. Come and join Health Talk. Why do women outlive men? Why do men marry younger women. Send us your comments and questions.

Abigail Trafford: Why do men tend to marry younger women as they get older? And why do women go for older men. Any signs that this pattern is changing?

Andrew Cherlin: I think men choose younger women for evolutionary reasons having to do with our early history. Until recently, it was advanatgeous for men to have as many children as possible, and marrying young, healthy women was the way to do that. So men have evolved a taste for younger women that remains, even though most people only want a few children.

Arlington, VA: I am about to marry a wonderful woman who is 5 years my junior. What can, and should, I do so we can live out as much as our lives together as we can?

Andrew Cherlin: The good news is that you don't have to do much. Statistically speaking, you are likely to live as long as he does and to remain vigorous as long as he does. He might be the one to exercise regularly to make sure he can stay healhty along with you!

Rockville, Md.: As an evolutionary psychologist, I would argue that such a solution is not feasible. Biology created a system where men seek young fertile women and women seek stable, secure men. Thus older men seek younger women, and vice-versa. Biology does not act in a manner that is necessarily best for society, but for the individuals genetic material to pass on, whether or not they want to have offspring. Sociology and evolutionary psychology tend to be in conflict with each other. I back up my claims by noting that biology is more of a science that sociology and suspectible to less human error.

Abigail Trafford: What happens when the environment changes and the biological response is no longer needed? Doesn't it go the way of the dinasaur? Dr. Cherlin, your thoughts?

Andrew Cherlin: I agree that our evolutionary past is affecting us. But humans are able to modify their impulses through culture and law. We don't behave toward each other the way cavemen did. I think that it is possible to modify men's outlook -- but I agree that evolution makes it a difficult task to do. We still could have SOME influence on SOME people's behavior.

Fairfax, Va.: I doubt you'll accept this question/comment, but it is honest, and one eched by many men, so here it goes.

Younger women are more attractive than older women (on average). Men care more about partners looks than women, and are therefore inclined to date and marry younger women.

Doubt this will ever change.

Do you think I am full of it? Or do you recognize there may be some truth to this?

Andrew Cherlin: I think there is truth to it. And I think that it has an evolutionary basis. But here's what else is changing: women are remaining healthy and vigorous to much older ages than a century ago. I think there are many mature women who retain physical attractiveness and vigor -- and are therefore attractive to men.

Laurel, Md.: I once read that the longevity gap between the sexes was fully explainable from wars and smoking.

That said, without World War III, and with smoking becoming an increasingly female activity, could we see male life expectancies rise ahead of females' in the future?

Andrew Cherlin: The longevity gap is mainly attributable not to war but to the sharp decline in the number of women who die in childnbirth. A century or two ago, perhaps one in five women died in childbirth. Modern medicine fortunately has reduced this risk. But when this chage occurred, women (who may have a stronger biological constitution in adulthood to withstand the rigors of childbirth) began to live much longer.

Washington, D.C.: "The major reason for the imbalance is ... men tend to marry younger women as they get older." Whoever wrote that needs to redo their math. The ratio of women to men above age 85 is over 2 to 1; over age 65, its 1.5 to 1 (see www.census.gov). Since at birth, the ratio is about 1 to 1, the fact is men have higher mortality rates. At most 10-20 percent of the imbalance is due to marriage patterns, hardly the major reason. A focus on men's health would be far more productive than trying to change marriage patterns.

Abigail Trafford: How much of the imbalance in the Golden Years is due to differences in life expectancy. How much is due to mate selection patterns? Dr. Cherlin?

Andrew Cherlin: Look, in an mathematical sense, the questioner is correct to say that the issue is that women outlive men. But if men didn't have a tendency to marry younger women, there would not be such a great "marriage gap" at older ages.

Focus on men's health? Of course we should that.

Bethesda, MD: I definitly think there is a trend to start to date/marry who you "connect" with,age be darned...my fiance and I have been together over three years, I'm six years older than him and we plan to marry sometime in the next year or so. I have a friend who married a man 10 years her junior and another who's husband is seven years younger than her (she's in her mid/late 30's) and they just had their first baby. I'm seeing age as not such an issue anymore but the quality of the relationship. If these older men think that dating a younger woman will "enhance" their autumn years they should try going to Dewey Beach for a weekend and see how well they can relate to the younger set.

Andrew Cherlin: I agree that it is more acceptable now for older women and younger men to get together than it was a few decades ago.

Wash., DC: Great column, thanks. Liked your lighthearted take on the situation. Dr. Cherlin, what if anything do you think might change the patterns and help men see the wisdom and desirability of marrying women nearer their own age?

Andrew Cherlin: Men might begin to notice that middle-aged women are healthy and fit -- often more so than them. And they might notice that modern marriage rests on more than sexuality -- it rests on companionship with a partner who shares your life stage.

Washington, D.C.: Isn't it possible that older men marry younger women because they are looking for more vibrant sexual partners, not because they subconsciously want another baby? To me, older people, (both men and women), are stuck in the rigid constraints of the past concerning sexuality. I'm in my late 40s. If I were looking for a new wife, I'd want a woman who was willing to take sexuality to whole new levels. I would probably look to a younger woman as I perceive a younger woman would have more energy, curiosity, and openness to try new things.

Abigail Trafford: Maybe you're wrong about older women. . . . Dr. Cherlin?

Andrew Cherlin: I wonder if some middle-aged women, freed from concerns about pregnancy and childbirth, might not be more adventurous than some younger women.

Mt. Rainier: If men didn't marry largely out of vanity, you wouldn't see nearly so much 'arm candy' or at least women trying to become that. I don't see biological imperatives being all that compelling - except when men want to justify shallow behaviour! It's obvious that humans do not operate solely or even mostly on an instinctual level.

Abigail Trafford: Arm candy. . . male vanity. Dr. Cherlin?

Andrew Cherlin: Arm candy and male vanity may be instinctive. The task may be to get men to behave less instinctively.

CJ, Alexandria, VA: My wife is 15 years younger than I am (41 and 26). She keeps me much more active than I feel I would be with a wife my own age (e.g., my ex) who may be looking to slow down a bit by now. Isn't it natural for men to seek younger, more physically attractive women?

Abigail Trafford: I don't think it's "natural." I think it's CULTURAL. Younger does not automatically mean physically more attractive--for a man or a woman. Dr. Cherlin--your thoughts?

Andrew Cherlin: Yes, I think it is natural. But people today are also looking for companionship, and some older-men-younger-women marriages (althought not necessarily yours!) may not provide it.

Leesburg, Va.: This sounds very smart, but I've never heard of anyone marrying just for his or her health! To excite men's imaginations (an indispensable element), I propose that health authorities team up with executives in Hollywood, TV, magazine publishers, the cosmetics industry, etc.

For example: which women will be interviewed in men's magazines? How old will the accompanying female models be in ads for men's clothing and other items? When will gray hair be considered as acceptable (even attractive) for women as it is for men? How about more movies and TV series whose main characters are fascinating mature women? These are some of the real steps to take, without which the "perfect statistical fit" Trafford describes can be nothing more than an idle wish.


Abigail Trafford: We're talking revolution here. . .

Andrew Cherlin: But we HAVE begun to see some of this: Many famous fashion models have had much longer careers than would have been the case a few decades ago -- Cheryl Tiegs comes to mine. Images of attractive middle-aged women are more common now, I think.

Alexandria, Va.: I am not sure I see the problem here: men marry young women, men die, women lonely -- solution: men should marry same-age women?

Seems like this is the women's problem, not men's. We're dead and gone, and they have a bridge party. Why should men do anyhing diffrent?

Andrew Cherlin: Bridge parties are nice, but having someone in your life is nicer.

Arlington, VA: Thank God I found my husband. He appears to be one of the few men out there who can appreciate a woman for herself.

Humans can reason, which means they do not have to act on their impulses. Men use the old "I'm predisposed to spread my seed." simply as an excuse for their own shortcomings.

Andrew Cherlin: Humans can reason -- amen. That's why things are changing.

Bethesda, Md.: Personally, I think a men's health office is overdue. Abigail, I got the impression from the snarky tone in your column that you are suggesting that we don't need a men's health office because men don't marry closer to their own age? If so, maybe we should get rid of all the women's health offices around the country so women won't have to live lonely, long lives.

Abigail Trafford: No, no, no, no. (And I was trying to be funny in the column.) I think attention to men's health is essential. The serious question is whether this goal could be better achieved if the National Institutes of Health had a special office on men's health. I'm not sure. All the institutes at NIH deal with diseases and illnesses that affect men. The Office of Women's health was created because in the past, research on such disease as heart disease was mainly done on men. Research on women had some catching up to do. Do men need a special office of men's health? Or should a greater priority be put on certain male-only problems in all of NIH? That's already happening with prostate cancer, for example. And self-destructive behaviors such as suicide that disporportionately affect men. Dr. Cherlin, what do you think?

Andrew Cherlin: I agree with Abigail. I think that in the past, when most doctors were men, research into diseases that affect men got the most attention. And fewer women lived long enough to die of ovarian or breast cancers. This changes at NIH are just an attempt to correct the imbalance.

Derwood, MD: I'm a little disturbed by the tone of Ms. Trafford's article. She seems to be more concerned about elderly women living along than the tens of thousands of men who die prematurely in our country.

How would readers react if women were dying 6 years earlier than men, and someone wrote an article that lamented the fact that so many elderly men have to cook for themselves?

Abigail Trafford: Let me set the record straight. I'm very concerned about the thousands of people who die prematurely. I'm very sad that a disporportionate number of men die before women. That's the real issue. I want men to live longer, better. There's also this other factor in the relationship between the sexes. And a couple of centuries ago, men did outlive women. . .

Andrew Cherlin: I certainly care that men live longer, healthier lives. It would help the age imbalance if they did. But what about today -- what do we make of the marriage gap now? I'm suggesting that it has outlived its usefulness.

suitland, md: How common is it for men to marry women considerably younger than they? How is this propensity measured, since the US doesn't collect very detailed marital information on its death certificates, and survey information generally does not provide researchers with information to study age differentials, and data on marital events has been hard to come by in the late 1990s?

Andrew Cherlin: You're right that the data is bad -- my guess is that you're sitting at a terminal at the Census Bureau right now. But enough data exists to suggest some trend toward men marrying older women, although it is the exception and not the rule.

Washington, DC: I noticed in your article that men and women had the same life expectancy in 1900. Today, women are expected to live about 6 years longer than men. What is the reason for the change? I'm guessing that the dramatic increase in a woman's life expectancy has much to do with the fact that today's women are much less likely to die during childbirth than women living in 1900. Is my guess correct, or is there something else at play?

Abigail Trafford: You're right. Women are also having fewer children. Dr. Cherlin?

Andrew Cherlin: You're exactly right. Less death in childbirth is the main reason.

Alexandria, VA: I have the natural instinct to eat as much food as I possibly can when it's available to build up body fat so I can live through the winter. However, because of how our society is structured, I don't need to do this, and therefore squash my urge to eat 3 pints of Ben & Jerry's everyday.

Men don't need to father children everywhere any more. Your reasoning screams to me as an excuse for not living up to one's responsibilities.

Andrew Cherlin: A lot of men haven't figured this out.

Harrison, NJ: There are no older women for younger men to marry. Women tend to marry at a younger age because of their biological clock, while men marry later once they are financially/career stable. So I don't think men would have much luck finding older women to marry and vice versa.

Andrew Cherlin: Not if they want to have children, for sure. But what about men (and women) who already have children?

Alexandria, Va.: Ms. Traffod,

I normally agree with your writing, but this piece was very sexist. Women are not passive lumps sitting there waiting for the men, the only actors in your piece, to marry them. Many women, myself included, have fallen in love and deliberately married older men because they, not the younger men as you state in your piece, are the wise ones. I'll give you $1,000,000 for every mature, stable, loving, generous, kind man of 28 years old who is ready to commit and has wisdom and no ego or other issues to work out. I made the right choice. What about the option, as once again the passive women in your piece don't seem to have since they are "sitting alone," of one of those widows remarrying or taking a younger lover after her first love has died? Lots of widows have active, happy, love-filled lives after their first husbands die. I sure plan to.

Your piece really sells everyone short. Men are not always looking for breeders and women certainly are intelligent enough to weigh all the issues before they actively decide to marry (try using the active sense of the verb with -women- as the subject).

Abigail Trafford: True confessions: I'm a romantic. I believe in love. There are many reasons to get married. Being a statistic is not usually one of them. And as you point out, widows and divorcees go on to more love-filled relationships. But numbers tell a story. How do we reconcile love in mating with the cold statistics on marriage patterns? Dr. cherlin?

Andrew Cherlin: The problem is that there aren't that many older widowers out there -- most of them are remarried or dead. More power to anyone who finds a great partner in middle- or old-age, but the way we do marriage makes it more difficult for women.

Leesburg, Va.: (

An older, male friend of mine says one reason for the age discrepancy in marriage is that older women, more often than older men, seem to lose interest in sex. What would you say about this?

Abigail Trafford: This is simply not true. Do I have to give evidence? Dr. Cherlin, the floor is yours.

Andrew Cherlin: I don't think there's any evidence to support that belief. In some societies, long ago, women were supposed to give up sex after they became grandmothers. But those days are long gone.

bladensburg md: I suppose as a woman I should be happy to marry a younger man, but there's more to it than the prospect of dying together. First you have to live together, and men do not seem to mature emotionally nearly as quickly as women. Really DON'T want to be stuck with someone emotionally 10 years younger than I!

Andrew Cherlin: But that's just what a lot of men do. It doesn't seem to be a deal breaker for as many men as it does for women.

Silver Spring, Maryland: Do you think men would live longer if they would stop infidelity?

Andrew Cherlin: Yes but they would enjoy it less!

MD/DC: I'm glad to see this discussion, but want to ask again, why can't people focus on the individual, not on the somewhat arbitrary number that is chronological age? I've recently become smitten with a man more than 20 years my senior (I'm in my late 30s, he is in extremely good shape, mentally active, etc.). We click beautifully BUT he just doesn't want to get involved with younger women, citing time-of-life differences--without specifics--and a couple other fears that I should be able to easily address. Sigh... Don't you think focusing on age when everything else is great can result in throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Thanks.

Abigail Trafford: Go for love, but don't forget the life-expectancy tables. And people change at different stages. A man in his 50s and a woman in her 30s may be very close in "mutual age." But what happens when a man reaches 80 plus and the woman is a "young" 60? Later on, there may be a greater gap in "mutual age." Dr. Cherlin, what do you think?

Andrew Cherlin: Sure it's possible for people far apart in age to have a great relationship. But sometimes different lifestages cary different interests and concerns (though not necessarily in your case). I think it's easier for age-mates to find compatability.

washington, dc: The problem is that the heart wants what the heart wants.....Should the more mature women settle for the men that are our ages and irresponsible? The men who has no goals set for themselves and the have no careers in mind.

Abigail Trafford: Depends how old you are! At some point, men do catch up and a ripe for a partner who's in the same age ballpark. Dr. Cherlin--what is that age for men???? At what age should women look for men their own age or younger?

Andrew Cherlin: Well, at any age. But it's true that a women of 25 won't find many 19-year-olds who would make good partners.

Alexandria, VA: Why do you consider men's mating ways "prehistoric" when they marry younger women, but you have no such judgement on these women these men marry? Men are victimizers, women are innocent victims, apparently. This construct appears again when married men are often the only ones blamed when they have affairs. Are not the women these men cheat with equally at fault for this hurtful moral lapse? Very odd. Are you biased against men?

Abigail Trafford: I am not biased against men. Quite the opposite. I believe in the "just exchange." Dr. Cherlin?

Andrew Cherlin: Nobody's to blame here -- this is just the way humans have married for centuries. But times have changed, and the old patterns are creating some new imbalances (a large number of single older women).

Southern Maryland: I'll let you in on a secret: Women want to be widows. That's the only reason to get married is to hope, someday, you'll be a rich widow. Do the names Anna Nicole Smith and Marlene Cooke ring a bell? If you took an anonymous poll and people answered honestly, the greatest majority of women can't wait for the hubby to kick off, then they'll be rich and free to kick up their heels. Men marry younger women solely for arm decoration. They don't give a hoot about whether the trophy wife will outlive them.

Andrew Cherlin: Some women want to be widows -- but most prefer company.

This just in from the Census Bureau: They'll have a report in July with some stats on May/December and December/May marriages.

Now get back to work over there is Suitland!

Boston, Mass.: Dear Andrew, Good afternoon,

I am married to a man who is 14 years older than me. I am 24, he is 38. We do not have kids yet and this is a first marriage for both of us.

What problems, do you think, we can face in the future as a married couple? Do you think it is just the age gap that drifts people apart in their later years, or lack of interest in each other or smth else?

Thank you for your response and the time.


Andrew Cherlin: If you have kids together, you'll create your own family convey that will march through time - and you'll have lots in common, even if your husband is retired and you are still working.

Washington, DC: How does the economic revolution -- women's income equality -- figure in this?

Andrew Cherlin: Not much. Social Security figures into it -- it allows elderly people to live decent lives on their own.

Burke, Va.: They say that women after 40 has a very, very slim chance of getting married or remarring,is this true?

Andrew Cherlin: Not nearly as small as some studies used to suggest. Many will marry or remarry.

Washington DC: Hello,
How big of an age difference, would you say is "acceptable" in light of the topic?

Andrew Cherlin: I'd say nobody knows. But I'd also say that small differences aren't as noticeable, or as unusual, as they used to be.

Minneapolis, MN: I detect a more basic issue hidden behind this report: what is putting older men in a position to marry much younger women in the first place? Whatever it is, if it's creating such a large statistical effect, aren't we better off to attack the underlying problem rather than its effects?

My guess is--Andrew is the expert--that it is marriage breakup. I had read earlier that one or more marriage breakups reduces life expectancy by between 4 and 5 years. If so, and combined with the data in this report (not to mention health effects on children, which, again, Andrew is the expert on), it would seem overwhelmingly urgent to direct our attention as a society to preventing marriage breakup. It isn't necessary to inject anyone's values into this effort--it can be purely a public health issue: "divorce is a grave threat to public health"--a much greater threat in the aggreagate than some other much higher profile issues that we devote more attention to.

Andrew Cherlin: Another factor is that men earn more money and often have more status. So that gives them leverage in the marriage market. As women tend to earn more, this difference will be reduced.

Olney, Md.: The appeal that men marry a woman that's older assumes that all that's needed for a good marraige is a mix-and-match approach. While I tend to look harder with women within a range of ages (including several years older than myself), that is not a serious qualification as to marraigability (unless she is so young that laws start intervening). Compatability, communication and chemistry are the keys (plus "circumstances" -- like she isn't already married -- completes "the other four C's"; the first four are for diamonds). Women that are older have an advantage in compatability and communication, in that they tend to know better how important they are and work at them more. But there needs to be chemistry also, and that's more random. It's really a matter of who you happen to find that has all four "C's," has them mutually with you, and the relationship progresses successfully. One "C" out of place, and the marraige has a very high probability to fail -- and the lack of taking the time to properly assess that before jumping into marraige results in the present high divorce rate.

By the way, what are the statistics of life expentency among people that are divorced and those that remain single? Married people are reported to live longer, but what is the comparison between those that remain married to their first spouse, those on a multiple, those no longer married, those that got married late, and those that remained single? Lets really examine things that may affect life expentancy.

Andrew Cherlin: Your 4 C's are a good guide. People in first marriages live longer than others. What we don't know for sure is whether marriage makes people healther or whether people who are healthier get (and stay) married.

Washington, DC: In response to your comments on fashion models enjoying longer careers and, therefore, increasing the number of older women pictured in advertisements, et al ... I suspect that, in fact, the opposite is true. The supermodel is rapidly being replaced by the actress (more actresses than supermodels are now being used in ads and fashion magazines), and, unfortunately, the career life-span of an actress is shrinking. I believe that the Washington Post ran an article on this subject last week ... in the Style section, perhaps?

In any case, there is little doubt that the image of female beauty portrayed in modern magazines, on television, and in films is unrealistic at best. The super-thin, wrinkle-free, non-gray image is difficult enough for younger women to achieve, much less middle-aged or older women. Don't you think we should do more as a society to reverse this trend--not only to help bridge the marriage gap, but to reduce common problems like eating disorders as well?

Andrew Cherlin: Absolutely -- the anorexic image of beauty is unhealthy for everyone concerned.

Bethesda, MD: Yes, women are not dying during child birth as it happened earlier in the century. But let's recognize that we, women, go to the doctor for regular preventive check ups, we take care of ourseselves, we watch our diets.
Men, in the majority, are NOT doing these things. The NIH office will be helpful if men are willing to take advantage of the benefits, which they can now by going going regularly to their doctors.

Andrew Cherlin: You're right that men don't take care of their health as well as women!

Baltimore: Might the gap also be attributable to the fact that if a man has been married for a long time, he may be used to "things" being taken care of for him? I have observed that when an older man loses his wife, he seems somewhat lost in how to take care of a household, and so may be looking for someone to fill that role for him.

Andrew Cherlin: It's really true that older widowers tend to have trouble managing their households without their wives. In this sense, older men need marriage more than older women do.

Fairfax, Va.: I read the recent article by Abigail Trafford regarding men marrying women younger than themselves. It seems to me she focuses more on age per se and less on maturity levels, although maturity level is mentioned in passing. I believe the proportion of men and women available to each other in retirement will become even due to woman choosing a professional life and therefore subject to the same pressures and risks responsible for many health/mental problems and subsequent mortality in a proportion greater than men. It is clear that the death gap has closed and will reverse in the forseeable future.

My question is, how do you respond to Abigail not discussing any of the positive aspects of the older man/younger woman scenario (an opportunity to have children, spontaneously meeting someone believed to be one's soul mate, or being with a younger, adventurous, less complicated, and contempary woman to name a few amoung thousands)of an older man and younger woman hooking up? Every article I've read on this subject is decidely one-sided, including Dr. John Gray, he must be right if he is on Oprah all the time. If you dislay this question, I will know you are interested in an honest intellectual, emotional, and objective analysis of this issue vs. all the usual suspect myths presented in Abigail's article that only misrepresent men and over-represent womankind.

Abigail Trafford: A lot of the benefits--finding a soul mate, falling in love, choosing a partner who's adventurous, uncomplicated, contemporary--could apply to a person your own age. . . . Personality is more important than chronology. Dr. Cherlin, what do you think? And are death rates increasing for women as more women have similar work lives to men? Do you think that will happen as women face the same challenges as men in the workplace? Plus the stress of raising a family?

Andrew Cherlin: i think as women have similar work lives, they'll have even more in common with men their ages. And there's not much evidence that working for pay has lowered women's life expectencies.

Arlington, VA: This is more a comment than a question. I am a 52-year-old woman who has consistently dated younger men. I find that men in their 50s can't keep up with ME, sexually or otherwise. Most of the men I date don't mind the age difference at all - I probably focus on it more than they do. Perhaps I'm an exception. If so, I'm happy to be one!

Andrew Cherlin: I think there are a lot of people like you -- a lot more than people think.

Harrison, NJ: I don't think men necessarily choose to marry younger women. Instead it is a natural occurance because men tend to want to marry once they are financially and emotionally ready for marriage, while women are dictated by their biological clock (to bear children while still relatively young). Therefore, men are usually ready for marriage at a later age than women.

If men married older women, there may be families with less stable finances/fathers still attempting to build careers, putting stress on the marriage.

Abigail Trafford: Maybe there are different age gaps that are "appropriate" at different ages. An age gap of ten years is not so emotionally or physically great in the middle decades--ages 30 to 60. But after 60, people would be closer emotionally and physically with partners closer in age. To be sure, One life-long marriage is the goal. But statistics show this goal is achieved by only about half of all couples.

Andrew Cherlin: What you say may be true at 30. But the life expectancy gap really widens after age 50 -- that's what I have been focusing on in this discussion.

South of the Beltway: Re: the remark about middle-aged women being set in their ways. We middle-aged women, being freed from the threat of an unwanted pregnancy, would certainly be more adventurous sexually if we had a partner who could rise to the occasion. Ever have sex with a man over 50? It's more wishful thinking on their part. Just leave 'em alone with their Penthouse and Playboy magazines, and take up a hobby.

Andrew Cherlin: Amen.

Outside the Beltway: I'll bet you're getting some really interesting messages--the ones you're not publishing!

Don't you think, in the final analysis, that people will find each other? I think painting 'older' and 'younger' humans of both sexes with such broad brushes does a huge disservice to individuality. As one of your correspondents said, age is arbitrary. We find who we find. Attaching labels just makes it harder.

I think the intervention of the NIH is the issue, not Marital Habits of Western Males.

Abigail Trafford: I agree 100 percent. Dr. Cherlin?

Andrew Cherlin: We're good at attaching labels, not so good at peeling them off.

Abigail Trafford: Our time is up. We could go on and on. Thank you all for your comments and questions. Thank you Andrew Cherlin. Join us next week same time, same place. We'll talk about Motherhood.

© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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