New Study Finds Most Couples Have Similar Projected Lifespans

Compatibility isn't just about shared values and senses of humor.

elderly couple in hats
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When choosing the person we want to spend the rest of our lives with, we tend to focus on whether or not they share the same goals, values, sense of humor, and other compatible personality traits. But, according to a fascinating new study published in the journal Heredity, there's something else we look for in a partner that most of us didn't even realize: similar projected lifespans.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh examined data on more than 500,000 married people between the ages of 37 to 73 in U.K. They found that a majority of the couples shared similar risk levels for the same diseases—such as high blood pressure or heart disease—and therefore, they had similar projected lifespans. Since these risk factors are largely not visible when couples meet, the researchers believe that all of this happens on a subconscious level.

"Our study suggests that humans tend to select partners for behavioral or physical traits that are genetically related to disease and longevity," researcher Albert Tenesa, a quantitative genetics professor at the Roslin Institute of the University of Edinburgh, said in a university newsletter. "Understanding what traits these are will require new and long-term studies that follow hundreds of thousands of couples from the moment they meet until later in life when they develop disease."

When both partners in a couple develop diseases later in life, it's often because they tend to adopt similar habits, such as smoking, an unhealthy diet, or spending a little too much time on the couch. This phenomenon is known as "the ripple effect." And the inverse is also true, meaning that when someone in a relationship commits to losing weight, their partner tends to lose weight as well, even if they don't actively decide to do so.

The University of Edinburgh study is the latest in a growing amount of research that indicates that there's a lot more that goes into mate choice than meets the eye. Previously, the 1998 "sweaty T-shirt" study found that women were more attracted to the scent of a man whose immune system was most dissimilar to their own, which makes sense on an evolutionary level, since a more diverse immune system leads to healthier offspring.

The new University of Edinburgh study also sheds light on previous research about elderly couples who die within a few months of one another, which is also called "the widowhood effect." While "broken heart syndrome" is real, according to science, it's also possible that people subconsciously chose someone they knew they could truly be with until death-do-you-part, even when they were still young and healthy.

And for more on marriage and longevity, check out why Science Says a Happy Spouse Means a Longer Life.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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