Girls, when young never wed an old man

Women are much better off financially if they marry someone younger than they are

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 July, 2013, 5:01am

Would you mind marrying a husband younger than you? That may be a wise choice financially, according to a study that shows older women are falling into poverty partly because they married even older men.

The age gap between husbands and wives, as well as the fact that women live longer than men, means many widowed women struggle to make ends meet, according to a study by fund house Allianz entitled "Younger Wife's Curse".

In Hong Kong, women on average live six years longer than men. Hong Kong women are on average younger than their husband by 2.5 years. This is narrower than 1971, when Hong Kong women were on average 6.4 years younger than their husband.

The result of the age gap is a rising number of ageing widows. In 2006, 48.4 per cent of all Hong Kong women aged 65 or above were widowed.

This older generation were born at time when not all women would work after marriage.

They were generally housewives and they relied on their husband as the breadwinner. This is why our mothers and grandmothers are at greater risks of suffering from poverty once their husband dies.

Hong Kong is not alone in suffering the "younger wife curse". Globally, it is a fact that wives are younger than their husbands, which may relate to the fact that women mature earlier than men. In some Asian countries, it was believed having a younger wife increased the chances of offspring.

Niger has the widest gap, at 7.4 years, followed by India at 4.6 years, Greece has a gap of 4.4 years and Italy 3.3 years.

On the mainland and the United States, women are in general 1.8 years younger than their husbands, while Ireland has the narrowest age difference, of only 1.1 years. Many of these women who eventually become widows do not have an independent income, meaning older women are more likely to live in poverty than older men in 27 out of 30 OECD countries, the Allianz study showed.

The study also showed a change emerging, with women born in the 1960s or after more likely to continue to work after marriage. They therefore have a better financial future and have more resources to prepare for their retirement.

Brigitte Miksa, head of international pensions at Allianz Asset Management, said: "Social norms are changing, and pensions are improving for women, so today's younger women appear better positioned to ensure their own financial security."

Another solution may be to find a younger husband. In England and Wales, the proportion of women marrying a younger man rose to more than a quarter in 1998, from one in seven in 1963.

This may be the trick to break the curse.