Mind the gap – does age difference in relationships matter?

The mean age of marriage in Europe is well above 25, and averaging at 30 in Nordic countries, however this may also be due to the increase of cohabitation in European countries. Social structural origin theory argues that the underlying cause of sex-differentiated behaviour is the concentration of men and women in differing roles in society. It has been argued that a reason gender roles are so prevalent in society is that the expectations of gender roles can become internalised in a person's self-concept and personality.

It is thought that a trade-off or equilibrium is reached in regards to what each gender brings to the mating partnership and that this equilibrium is most likely to be reached with a trade-off of ages when selecting a mate. Women and men tend to seek a partner that will fit in with their society's sexual division of labour.

For example, a marital system based on males being the provider and females the domestic worker, favours an age gap in the relationship. An older male is more likely to have more resources to provide to the family. The rational choice model also suggests that 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. Age-hypogamy defines a relationship where the woman is the older partner, the opposite of this being age- hypergamy. Older female—younger male relationships are, relative to age-hypergamous relationships older male—younger female , less researched in scientific literature.

The picture often displays a stereotypical pairing of a divorced, middle-aged, white, affluent female dating a younger male with the relationship taking the form of a non-commitment arrangement between the partners. Although age-hypogenous relationships have historically been very infrequent, recent US census data has shown an increase in age-hypogenous relationships from 6. There may be many reasons why age-hypogamous relationships are not very frequent. Sexual double standards in society, in particular, may account for their rarity. There is debate in the literature as to what determines age-hypogamy in sexual relationships.

A number of variables have been argued to influence the likelihood of women entering into an age-hypogamous relationship, such as racial or ethnic background, level of education, income, marital status, conservatism, age, and number of sexual partners. Another example illustrating the varying literature surrounding age-hypogamous relationships is research indicating that a woman's marital status can influence her likelihood of engaging in age-hypogamous relationships. It has been found that married women are less likely to be partnered with a younger male compared to non-married women [60] in comparison to more recent findings, which provides evidence to suggest that previously married women are more likely to engage in an age-hypogamous sexual relationship compared to women who are married or who have never been married.

Despite social views depicting age-hypogamous relationships as short lived and fickle, recent research published by Psychology of Women Quarterly has found that women in age-hypogamous relationships are more satisfied and the most committed in their relationships compared to younger women or similarly aged partners. A recent study found that when shown pictures of women of ages ranging from 20—45 with different levels of attractiveness, regardless of age, males chose the more attractive individuals as long term partners.

The "never date anyone under half your age plus seven" rule is a rule of thumb sometimes used to prejudge whether an age difference is socially acceptable.

In earlier sources, the rule had a different interpretation than in contemporary culture, as it was understood as a formula to calculate ideal age for the bride, instead of a lower limit for the suitable age. The half-your-age-plus seven rule also appears in John Fox, Jr.

In modern times, this rule has been criticised as being more accurate for men than women, and for allowing a greater maximum age for a woman's partner later in her life than is actually socially acceptable. The age disparity between two partners is typically met with some disdain in industrialized nations, and various derogatory terms for participants have arisen in the vernacular. In English-speaking countries, where financial disparity, and an implicit money-for-companionship exchange, is perceived as central to the relationship, the elder of the two partners perceived as the richer is often called a "sugar daddy" or "sugar mama" depending on gender.

The younger of the two is similarly called the sugar baby. In extreme cases, a person who marries into an extremely wealthy family can be labelled a gold digger , especially in cases where the wealthy partner is of extreme age or poor health; this term often describes women but can be applied to either gender.

Age disparity in sexual relationships

An attractive younger woman pursued by a wealthy man who is perceived as wanting her only for her looks may be called a trophy wife. In the latter case, the term trophy is broadened to include any substantial difference in power originating from physical looks, wealth, or status. It should be noted that the trophy label is often perceived as objectifying the partner, with or without the partner's implicit consent.

Where the primary perceived reason for a relationship with a significant age difference is sexual, many gender-specific terms have become popular in English-speaking cultures. A woman of middle to elderly age who pursues younger men is a cougar or puma , and a man in a relationship with an older woman is often called a boytoy , toyboy , himbo , or cub. In reverse, the terms rhino , trout and manther a play on the panther term for women are generally used to label an older man pursuing younger women, and the younger woman in such a relationship may be called a kitten or panther.

If the much-younger target of affections is not of the legal age of consent, the term jailbait may be applied to them, with connotations cautioning against involvement. An older term for any licentious or lascivious man is a lecher , and that term and its shortening of lech have become common to describe an elderly man who makes passes at much younger women. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The neutrality of this section is disputed. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page.

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Why doesn’t age matter to some?

Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 27 December Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 7 May Kenneth; Santtila, Pekka Retrieved 25 November Retrieved 11 September Variations among Developing Countries". International Family Planning Perspectives. The Great Books of the Western World. Journal of Sex Research. Parental investment and sexual selection.

Does the age gap matter? What happens when there is an age difference when dating # AskRenee

Current Directions in Psychological Science. Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures". Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. A critical review of theory and research". Facial attractiveness, symmetry and cues of good genes. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, , — Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12 01 , 1— Marriage systems and pathogen stress in human societies.

American Zoologist, 30 2 , — Polygynists and their wives in sub-Saharan Africa: The puzzle of monogamous marriage. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Evolved Dispositions Versus Social roles". The economic approach to human behaviour. Journal of Marriage and Family. Celebrity versus fictional cougars". Annual social and economic supplement. US Government Printing Office. Mutually exclusive in perception of women". Bureau of the Census, U. Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.

Romantic couples with a large age gap often raise eyebrows. Studies have found partners with more than a ten-year gap in age experience social disapproval. But when it comes to our own relationships, both men and women prefer someone their own age, but are open to someone years their junior or senior. While there is variation across cultures in the size of the difference in age-gap couples, all cultures demonstrate the age-gap couple phenomenon. In some non-Western countries, the average age gap is much larger than in Western countries.

So does age matter?

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And do couples with large age gaps experience poorer or better relationship outcomes compared to couples of similar ages? These generally involve older men partnered with younger women. The limited evidence on same-sex couples, however, suggests the prevalence rates are higher. But what these trends tell us is that the majority of the population is likely to partner with someone of similar age.

This largely has to do with having social circles that generally include peers of similar ages and being attracted to others who are similar.


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Similarity entails many things, including personality, interests and values, life goals and stage of life, and physical traits age being a marker of physical appearance. Many of the reasons proposed for age-gap couples have been largely rooted in evolutionary explanations, and focus on explaining older man-younger woman pairings. The science of romance — can we predict a breakup?

Although men and women place importance on a partner who is warm and trustworthy, women place more importance on the status and resources of their male partner. This is largely because, with women being the child bearers, the investment is very high on their behalf time and effort in child bearing and rearing.

So they are attuned to looking for a partner who will also invest resources into a relationship and family. But because the building of resources takes time, we tend to acquire resources later in life and so are older by the time we have acquired enough wealth and resources to comfortably provide for others. For this, socio-cultural explanations might provide insights. With more women working, in higher positions and being paid more, they no longer have such a reliance on men for resources. So fewer women will prioritise resources when looking for a mate.

Some suggest a lack of , or a reduced pool of, suitable age-similar mates may bring about same-sex coupling with large age differences. Many people assume that age-gap couples fare poorly when it comes to relationship outcomes. But some studies find the relationship satisfaction reported by age-gap couples is higher. These couples also seem to report greater trust and commitment and lower jealousy than similar-age couples. Over three-quarters of couples where younger women are partnered with older men report satisfying romantic relationships.

A factor that does impact on the relationship outcomes of age-gap couples is their perceptions of social disapproval.


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