Question # 45: Our Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) married a woman who was much elder to him, then why don’t we follow this Sunnah in today’s times?
bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,
Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
Shorter Answer: It is absolutely permissible for a younger man to marry an older woman in Islam. However, both traditionally and contemporarily, a typical marriage involves an older man and a younger woman. These norms of course, change based on both common practice and common law. The focus here is on the inherent sex differences in resources that men and women bring to relationships. Consequently, most men preferred younger, physically attractive women, while most women, of any age, preferred successful, established men their age or older.
Long Answer: From the fatwa of Shaykh Ibn Baaz in Fataawa Islamiyyah, it is clear that “age does not matter, and it does not matter if the woman is older or if the husband is older. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) married Khadeejah (رضي الله عنها) when she was forty and he was twenty-five. What does matter is that the man should look for a righteous woman who is religiously-committed, even if she is older than him, if she is still young enough to bear children. The point is that age should not be a problem and such a marriage is not wrong if the man is righteous and the woman is righteous.”
However, to answer your question, we need to examine the issue from the social psychological point of view. Traditionally, marriages involve an older man and a younger woman. Although the accepted age of the woman varies both historically and culturally, a typical marriage would involve the woman being younger than the man. These norms change based on both common practice and common law. In fact, there is no biological reason that a man must be older than a woman. Instead, since historically the man has been the provider for the family, an older man would have the experience and skills needed to provide, while a younger man might not.
Looking at the statistics for age difference in married couples conducted by U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey in 2013, it is obvious that almost in 86% of the marriages, husbands are either older than their wife or at least of the same age. According to the rational choice model, the reason for age disparity is people look for partners who can provide for them in their life (bread-winners); as men traditionally earn more as they get older, women will therefore prefer older men. A British psychological study published in Evolution and Human Behavior in 2010 concluded that men and women, in general, continued to follow traditional gender roles when searching for mates. The study found that, as supported by other academic studies, most men preferred younger, physically attractive women, while most women, of any age, preferred successful, established men their age or older. The study found very few instances of older women pursuing much younger men and vice versa. (Age disparity in sexual relationships, Wikipedia.org)
Similar to the norm that a husband should be older and taller so as to appear ‘mentally and physically superior’ to his wife, an evolutionary explanation focuses on inherent sex differences in resources that men and women bring to relationships. Men’s indirect resources (e.g., food, money, protection, security) may actually increase over the lifespan, whereas the direct reproductive potential contributed by women decreases as they age, and ends at around age 50. (‘Close Relationships: Key Readings’ by Harry T. Reis and Caryl E. Rusbult, 2004)
Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.