The new statistics on mortality rates released by Statistics Canada this week illustrate just how much men are catching up with women in terms of life expectancy. That’s good news for all men, but particularly good news for single men, since living longer should increase their chances of finding love later in life.
Searching for love, and establishing new relationships, imposes costs on both men and women in that it requires an investment of time and energy. The longer both partners are likely to live, the more worthwhile it is to invest that energy since the benefit of being in the relationship will last for many years. So greater longevity, for both men and women, should increase the willingness of singles to seek out new relationships well into their senior years.
When men have much shorter life expectancies than women, however, there is a greater benefit to older men of being in a committed relationship than there is to older women. This is because women who enter into late-in-life relationships are more likely to find themselves acting as caregiver for their elderly partner; and to find themselves widowed and without a romantic partner in later years.
And while this is true for all women, regardless of how old they are when they marry, women who marry later in life not only face the paying cost of caregiving without having had the lifetime benefit of the relationship, but many also have enough firsthand experience to know exactly what caregiving and widowhood entails.
Despite numerous Hollywood depictions of older, casserole-clutching women lining up around the block desperately hoping to snag the rare man whose wife pre-deceases him, there is ample evidence to support this contention that single older women are not desperate to be in relationships because they are reluctant to take on caregiving roles.
Recent research using online personal ads of seniors finds that older women are not only more selective than older men about who they are willing to date, but they are even more selective than younger women when it comes the qualities a future mate must bring to a relationship.
Older women on online dating sites may be interested in finding love, but when faced with potentially high caregiving costs they are only willing to enter into relationships with men who are, in every way, perfect for them.
And for many senior women, holding out for the perfect man includes looking for a man who is younger; researchers at Berkley University found that while women age 60 to 74 appear be content with men their own age, women who are 75 years and older prefer men who are three years younger, on average.
The diminishing life expectancy gap should be good for men because women are more willing to commit to relationships with men who will be available for mutual caregiving at the end of their lives. And that trend would be good for all of us, since increased rates of marriage later in life would help create senior population in Canada that is both happier and healthier.
Marina Adshade is the author of Dollars and Sex: How Economics Influences Sex and Love and teaches at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver School of Economics.