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Last Updated: Friday, 12 December, 2003, 08:19 GMT
More women marrying younger men
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow (r) and singer Chris Martin
Chris Martin is five years younger than wife Gwyneth Paltrow
The number of women marrying younger men has soared in 25 years, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The proportion of brides in England and Wales marrying a younger man rose from 15% to 26% in the years from 1963 to 1998, it said.

The percentage of women marrying a man at least six years younger more than doubled in that time, from 3% to 7%.

The report concluded people were now marrying less for social status and more to fulfil "individual goals".

The statisticians said women were becoming increasingly economically independent, and perhaps treating marriage less as an "avenue" to social status and security.

The report said the example of celebrity couples such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin (31 and 26, and confirmed to have married last week), Emma Thompson and Greg Wise (44 and 37), and Madonna and Guy Ritchie (45 and 35) could be becoming more typical.

Women marrying for the second or subsequent time were even more likely to choose a younger man - 15% chose a husband six or more years younger than themselves.

Total women marrying younger men: 26%
Women marrying men more than six years younger: 7%
Women who have been married before, marrying a man more than six years younger: 15%
Typical age at first marriage for men: 28
Typical age at first marriage for women: 27
The "normal" situation remained the woman being a few years younger than the man, the statisticians said.

But they said in the 25 years, deviations from this had become much more common.

Whereas in 1963, 64% of marriages were between partners of the same age or the man up to five years older, by 1998 the figure had slipped to 49%.

The research also backed previous findings that both sexes were marrying later.

Fewer widows

The typical age at first marriage in 1963 was 23 for men and 22 for women, while in 1998 it was 28 and 27 respectively.

The median age gap between couples remained the same at two years, but the general distribution of age gaps was more dispersed.

The report's authors said the findings were important because changing patterns in marital age gaps could have far-reaching implications for older couples in the future.

There could be fewer widows in future, the report's authors said.

The BBC's James Westhead
"The trend could have important social implications"

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