Wives of Older Husbands Die Younger

Wives of Older Husbands Die Younger

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Did you see the study that found that Danish men with younger wives live longer?  Having a wife who was 15-17 years younger cut a man's risk of dying early by 20%.

What you may not have noticed is that the Danish women with husbands 15-17 years older than them increased their risk of dying early by 30%.  You may not have noticed it, because this part of the story was not in the headlines, it was at the end of the articles.  Instead articles focused on what this meant for men - was marrying a younger woman helping them live longer or was it just a sign of their overall good health to start with?

Amazingly, nobody seems to have put the two pieces of the study together - if the husband decreases his chance of dying early by 20% by marrying a younger woman, but she increases her chance of dying early by 30%, isn't that a problem?  A really, really big problem?  Would it really be justifiable to have your wife take care of you so that you live longer but she dies sooner?

WHAT THE STUDY SAID ABOUT WOMEN

  • Women live longer if they marry men who are close to them in age, i.e. no more than 6 years older or younger than them.
  • Women who marry men 7-9 years older than them have a 20% higher chance of dying early.  Women who marry men 15-17 years older than them have a 30% higher chance of dying early.*
  • Similarly, women who marry men 7-9 years younger than them have a 20% higher chance of dying early and women who marry men 15-17 years younger than them have a 30% higher chance of dying early.


WHY DO WOMEN MARRIED TO THEIR AGE PEERS LIVE LONGER?

Nobody knows why this happens yet.  Actually, the articles on the web didn't even speculate on why women who marry men their own age live longer.  There are a few possibilities.

  • Marrying an older man is harmful for your health.**  Perhaps you get less exercise and sex.  Maybe you have to deal with difficult issues like children from a previous marriage.  Taking care of him in old age is stressful, so is being widowed.  This could add up over time and take a fatal toll on your health.
  • Of course, that implies that marrying a younger man is harmful for your health.  This seems surprising, but perhaps younger men don't have as much money.
  • Women who marry older or younger men are less physically fit to start with.  This seems even more surprising - wouldn't rich older men prefer the most attractive, healthy women?  And don't you have to be extra attractive to get a younger man?  Still, it could be that Danish women prefer to marry men close to their own age, then older or younger men have to marry less fit women.  Maybe Danish women are doing the choosing, not men.
  • Something completely unknown causes Danish women to both live longer and choose husbands their own age.  For example, maybe Danish women who meet their husbands in college are more likely to marry men close to their own age.  They might also be more likely to have good jobs and healthy lifestyles.
  • The reasons women who marry older men die younger could be completely different from the reasons women who marry younger men die younger.  Maybe marrying an older man is directly harmful to your health.  Marrying a younger man, however, might not hurt your health at all - instead, maybe women who marry younger men are more likely to have been divorced or widowed.  The stress of losing a husband might be what hurt their health.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

The Daily Mail tabloid is already telling men they should marry a younger woman to help them live longer.  This might not work, but it certainly can't hurt a man.  It doesn't really matter why men with young wives live longer - at least not for the men.

On the other hand, it does matter for women.  Maybe marrying a man older or younger than you will make no difference to your health.  But what if it hurts your health?  Why aren't the tabloids telling women to marry men their own age, at least until we know more?

*This compares to men who marry women 7-9 years younger decreasing their
chance of dying early by 11% and men who marry women 15-17 years
younger decreasing their chance of dying early by 20%.

** Danish men who married older women were also more like to die early.

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