Thursday, January 19, 2012

May-December Romance: Why Is This Joke Funny?

Photo by sasastro 
I was standing in line at the university bookstore, waiting to pay for my textbooks when I saw a card on display that conveyed this joke:

A wealthy man in his 70s brought a beautiful twenty-something blonde to lunch at his country club. His golf buddies were duly impressed and asked him,

“How did you land such a young, gorgeous girlfriend?”

He replied, “She’s not my girlfriend. She’s my wife.”

“Wow! How did you manage that?”

“Easy. I lied to her about my age.”

“So did you tell her that you were 50?”

“No, I told her that I was 90.”

Yes, I did laugh when I read that, but then I started to unpack the source of my laughter. What does this joke say about the assumptions we hold about marriages between older men and younger women?

See Also: Movies about Love and Sex for People 50+

An oft-quoted set of statistics from my gerontology classes describes how older men are more likely to be married than older women of the same age:

Click to Enlarge Image
In 2007, 60% of men 85+ were married compared to only 15% of women 85+. A number of factors play into this. Women generally outlive men. By age 85, the ratio of men to women is 2:5.

Not only do older men have more women their own age to choose from for marriage partners, they also select from younger women. Older women are more likely to be single. And without the shared resources of a spouse, they are more likely to live below the poverty line and less likely to have a family caretaker (so more likely to be paying for a formal caretaker) than men. Aging is a very gendered experience.

What assumptions did you hold when responding to the joke above?

Do you know more older widows than you know older widowers? How will the age difference between husbands and wives affect the timing of their retirement, considering that younger, unemployed wives cannot rely on their husband’s medical insurance once these men move from workplace insurance to Medicare insurance? Have you created a timeline for how the age difference in your relationships might come into play during the aging process?

The age difference between spouses creates a complex situation. I don’t have easy answers to these questions. Join the discussion by leaving a comment below.

Long-term Care Is More Probably As We Age
Embracing My Age
More Seniors Than Ever: Population Pyramids


  1. So, all men have to do is not die and, at some age, they become a hot property, right?

  2. Michael: OK. We can see your assumptions at play. I am focusing more on how the young women believes that she's spending 10 years on an older man and believes she will re-enter the marriage market when she's still premenopausal. If he's in pretty good health, she could be 50 before she can try to snag someone closer to her age. But then again, she'll have the money (unless he requires super expensive medical care for a decade). So next time, she can marry someone younger. So maybe it will even out for her?