AGE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SPOUSES AND THE STATUS OF WOMEN
This research study was designed to determine whether spousal age difference affects the status of American women, relative to their husbands and to each other. Several researchers have suggested that the practice of women marrying men several years older than themselves undermines women's status by causing an imbalance in spousal power and limiting the women's nonfamilial roles through curtailment of her education and absorption in childrearing and housework. Conversely, women married to younger men are thought to be advantaged in status. Previous studies have found an association between age-discrepant marriages and lower female educational attainment and socio-economic status but did not separate causal factors from effects. A causal model was developed to test the hypothesis that this association is mainly due to other factors directly and indirectly linked to spousal age difference, including race, socio-economic background, educational attainment at marriage, age at marriage and number of children. Other variables analyzed include Hispanic origin, timing of first birth, and fertility intentions. The four dependent variables measuring women's status were: educational attainment, occupational status, current labor force participation, and income. The analysis was based on data from the 1982 National Survey of Family Growth, a national probability survey of American women aged 15-44, using a subsample of 2,645 currently married women who are in intact first marriages. Path analysis, regression, cross-tabulation, and correlation were used in the analysis. No evidence was found that marrying a man five or more years older is deleterious to a woman's status, nor was spousal age difference associated with status differentials between spouses. Women older than their husbands are more likely to be better educated and to have higher-status occupations and higher incomes, compared with other women. The husband's age at marriage is the best single predictor of spousal age difference. Among white women, education is also a factor: women who have not completed high school are more likely than other women to marry men three or more years older, while college graduates are more likely to marry men less than one year older or younger by 0-4 years.