Emmanuel Macron is 24 years younger than his wife, and the incoming French president is exasperated that people keep talking about it.
Discussing the assumptions and rumours about his relationship his wife, Brigitte, Macron told Le Parisian newspaper this week that "if I had been 20 years older than my wife, nobody would have thought for a single second that I couldn't be".
It's a sentiment many French women seem to relate to. Speaking to The Washington Post's Mary Jordan ahead of the election, some suggested that the Macrons' marriage was social "revenge" for years of powerful men seeking younger wives. But it raises the question: just how unusual is Macron's May-December romance in French politics anyway?
When he takes office, Macron will be the only leader under France's Fifth Republic to be younger than his partner; no surprise there. However, the Macrons also will have the largest age gap of any French first couple under the Fifth Republic. Charles de Gaulle and François Hollande were both close to a decade older than their partners when they entered office, but those relationships are less than half the age gap the Macrons have.
The complicated love lives of some French leaders do make this comparison a little more tricky, however. To the delight of French tabloids, both Hollande and his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, split from their respective partners during their time in the Élysée Palace. Hollande quickly entered a relationship with actress Julia Gayet, 18 years his junior, while Sarkozy married former model Carla Bruni, 13 years younger.
Another factor is the fact that many French presidents have conducted well-known extramarital affairs. François Mitterrand's lengthy but covert relationship with art historian Anne Pingeot is now widely acknowledged and pretty much accepted. The couple had a daughter together, and Mitterrand would appear with her in public later in life. Pingeot was 27 years younger than Mitterrand.
Around the world, the picture gets even more complicated. If you look at the leaders of the world's 20 largest economies, at least three have age gaps with their partners that are at least as big as that of the Macrons: President Jacob Zuma (38 years) of South Africa, President Michel Temer (33 years) of Brazil and President Donald Trump (24 years) of the United States. However, there are complexities here, too, some resulting from societal differences. For example, Zuma may top the above list, but he is also a polygamist. His wives are of varying ages.
Little is known about the current wife of Saudi King Salman, so she is not included. Meanwhile, the age of Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni's low-profile wife, Emanuela Mauro, is not publicly known. And Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is estranged from his wife, while Russian President Vladimir Putin split from his spouse in 2013 (although he has since been linked with a number of younger women).
However, it does seem clear that the leaders of the world's largest economies do tend to favour younger partners. There is only one who joins Macron in choosing an older spouse: Angela Merkel. The German chancellor's husband, Joachim Sauer, is five years older.
© The Washington Post
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