UAs usual, British actor Hugh Grant recently described his personal situation in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “I’m an old man with very young children and a very exhausted woman.” At 60 and a total of five children under ten, he is indeed an old father. There is an age difference of almost 20 years between him and his wife Anna Eberstein, mother of three of his children.
Before she had children, Eberstein was quite ambitious professionally. But now she is “exhausted” and at home and lives mainly from the fortune of her husband, who is known from films like “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Bridget Jones”.
Few women who choose older men marry multimillionaires. However, the patterns that follow a large age difference are often similar: the woman takes less time at work, the man who is already further in his career becomes the provider.
Two renowned demographers have now examined the age difference between mothers and fathers in different industrialized countries. Your study suggests the following recommendation: If women want an equal partnership, they should not look for an older man.
Long-term consequences for the entire career
Such advice is of particular concern to women in Germany. When it comes to the age difference between parents, the country ranks fourth in a study of 17 countries. On average – in this case weighted according to the age-specific birth rates – a father in this country is 3.2 years older than a mother. Only in Estonia, Italy and Hungary was the age difference greater.
This is the conclusion reached by Sebastian Klüsener from the Federal Institute for Population Research (BIB) and Christian Dudel from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in a joint study.
“The age difference has consequences for society. It makes it more difficult to break old role models, ”says Klüsener. Scientists speak of retraditionalization. The older parent, often the man, is usually more established in the job and continues to saddle up after the birth of children. The woman slows down.
But such a decision has long-term consequences for entire employment histories. “You can imagine it as with freshly sown plants, where one is slightly larger and thus receives more light. It will grow more vigorously and can continue to expand its advantage from now on ”, says Klüsener. The consequence: traditional role models of men and women change particularly slowly in countries with large age differences.
From years of research, Katharina Wrohlich knows how important men are for women and their careers. She heads the Gender Economics research group at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in Berlin and is convinced: “It depends on the fathers.” The decisive factor is how they share the unpaid care work with their partner after the birth.
For men, the gross hourly wage increases up to their 47th birthday
And Germany is still not doing too well in an international comparison. In no other country in the OECD is the so-called gender care gap so large. After the birth of their first child, the time women spend doing housework in this country skyrockets. Men and fathers, on the other hand, are much less involved in extra work. The result: the majority of mothers remain part-time, promotions and wage increases are becoming less likely.
This means that the earnings gap between fathers and mothers is widening. According to DIW data, the average gross hourly wage of women in Germany already reaches its peak at the age of 30 – exactly the age at which women in Germany have their first child on average.
For men, the gross hourly wage continues to grow up to their 47th birthday. The economic facts should further cement the role models that have been adopted. After all, with significantly higher hourly wages, it is “worth it” more if the man works.
All over the world, fathers are on average older than mothers when they have children. Sociologists explain this, among other things, by the fact that women looked for partners with a higher social status, given their lower chances of advancement. Men, on the other hand, would have preferred younger, more fertile partners in evolutionary terms.
The younger the mothers, the more likely they are to have an older man
According to studies, the more developed societies are, the more the age gap between fathers and mothers shrinks. According to BIB’s Klüsener, the average age of fathers in some West African countries is ten years above that of mothers. “In Japan, on the other hand, the difference is less than two years, in Italy or Hungary more than 3.5 years.”
In all 17 industrialized countries examined in more detail, the age difference between fathers and mothers has shrunk in recent decades. Not so interestingly in Poland and Hungary. There, the societies are experiencing a political shift to the right and a retraditionalization, which apparently also results in a relapse into more traditional role models.
In his evaluation, Klüsener came across another detail: the younger the mothers were when their children were born, the more likely they were to have a significantly older man. If women only decided to have children after training and studying, the age difference between them and their partners usually also shrank.
Anna Eberstein is clearly an exception to this rule. Born in Sweden, she studied English and politics and holds a master’s degree in economics. She worked as a television producer and is a co-founder of an online company. But she trades – of all things – in Swedish house socks.