Why are age-gap relationships controversial?

A study by professors at Emory University found couples 10 or more years apart were 39% more likely to divorce than a couple a year apart.
Posted at 2:40 PM, Mar 01, 2023

It’s an age-old question. How wide is too wide when it comes to a relationship age gap? The answer is different for everybody.  

But in some cases, age is nothing but a number, as was the case for Phoebe’s brother Frank in the 90’s sitcom 'Friends.' And in some cases art imitates life: Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds and even former President Donald Trump and wife Melania Trump. All famous couples in age gap relationships with an age difference of at least 10 years. 

47-year-old actor Leonardo DeCaprio is known for only dating women under the age of 25. 

"He is now dating a teenager. Literally a teenager. She’s 19. He’s in the news every week for how he won’t date anybody past 25," said journalist, Megyn Kelly. 

This happens with non-celebrities, too. 

Data shows four-in-10 Americans have dated someone with an age difference of 10 or more years at some point in their lives. And research shows men are more likely to date someone 10 years younger than women are, while more women tend to date older men. But when it comes to being socially acceptable, Americans are more understanding of an older man, dating younger versus a woman.  

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Professional counselor T.J. Walsh told Scripps News it has to do with how society is preconditioned. 

"I think that has to do a lot with our culture and our society and how and how it's set up to really benefit the male. If we're talking heterosexual partners. Our society really favors puts a lot of a lot of focus on male privilege," Walsh said.  

But despite the disparity in acceptance between genders, most people have a certain perception of age gap relationships.

A 2018 study by researchers at Azusa Pacific University, found prejudice against age-gap couples could come from perceived relationship inequity. It also found a perception of older partners enjoying greater benefits from the relationship than their younger significant other. 

But judgment aside, can relationships with wide age gaps translate to success?  

A 2017 study by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, found that differently aged couples are less resilient to problems compared to similarly aged couples; and a 2014 study by professors at Emory University found couples 10 or more years apart were 39% more likely to divorce than a couple a year apart.  

But Walsh says in some cases, a couple’s large age gap can actually unite two people to live a more fulfilled life. 

"I think these different social experiences that each of them have encountered or not yet can really balance the relationship out in a pretty decent way," Walsh said.  

When it comes to true love, Walsh says, if you’re compatible, you can make any relationship work; despite the objections and judgments. 

"The Why" host Lauren Magarino speaks with Dr. Sarah E. Hill, a psychologist, relationship expert and research consultant for online dating site, Cougar Life, about the stigma surrounding age-gap relationships. Dr. Hill weighs in on the latest research from Cougar Life and Ipsos polling, revealing a majority of Americans believe age-gap relationships are more socially acceptable for men than women.