It’s one of the standard questions you get asked immediately after you tell your friends that you’re seeing someone new. Right after “What does he do?” and “Where does he live?” usually comes, “How old is he?”
If there’s not much of an age difference between you two, the conversation moves right along. But people can get pretty hung up on the topic of age once they find out that your new dude is five or even 10 years your senior (ditto if he’s that much younger than you).
Judgey friends aside, is there actually an ideal age difference for a relationship?
A few years ago, researchers from Emory University surveyed more than 3,000 men and women and found that even a five-year age difference resulted in an 18 percent higher likelihood of divorce compared to couples who were the same age, says sex and relationship expert Jessica O’Reilly, Ph.D. The researchers also suggested that a 10-year age gap boosted a couple’s chance of divorce by 39 percent, and a 20-year span led to a 95 percent increase in the chances of divorce. On the flipside, a one-year difference in age only resulted in a 3 percent higher chance for divorce.
However, the survey may have overstated its results, says O’Reilly. “More recent research has shown that the Emory University researchers’ data can’t accurately predict a couple’s likelihood of divorce based on their age gap alone,” she says. (The study authors later admitted that while there was a correlation between age gap and divorce, they couldn’t definitively predict a couple’s risk of divorce.)
And it makes sense. “There are so many other factors that differentiate you from your partner,” she says. Your culture, geography, family history, education, and income, for example, all shape your personality and relationship values, says O’Reilly.
In fact, being 20+ years older or younger than your partner (think: Rosie Huntington Whiteley and Jason Statham), can sometimes be a good thing, says Jane Greer, Ph.D. “This offers the opportunity for the younger partner to bring vitality into the relationship, balanced by the older person bringing wisdom and experience,” she says.
Unfortunately, aside from the anecdotal evidence from experts and the Emory University study, insight on the perfect age gap in a relationship is super light.
That’s because there’s no way to make an accurate prediction about the success of a relationship based on age alone, explains O’Reilly. “No matter how much data you collect, you can’t predict how future marriages will unfold,” she says.
That being said, one surefire way to doom your relationship is to get hung up on the age difference, says psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. Reality check: You’re not destined to be a statistic. “If you get along, have good communication and problem-solving skills, and you love each other, that’s far more important than your ages,” says Tessina.
If other people have a problem with it, let it be their problem.