When it comes to young women dating older men, almost everyone has an idea what is an “acceptable” age gap. Sure, you might claim that “love is all that matters,” but you will probably still turn up your nose when you see a 20-something year old with an aging geezer. That is, unless you just assume she is his daughter.
Let’s be clear here: when I say “dating older men,” I am not referring to Anna Nicole Smith and her “elderly oil tycoon” J. Howard Marshall. Nor am I talking about older men taking advantage of naïve 18-year old girls because they are easy to impress and fall prey to seduction tricks. I’m talking about women dating older men 7 to 25 years their senior.
Despite how common younger women dating older men is, it is still a bit taboo. So, here we will look at age gap statistics, why women date older men, and whether age really matters.
What is an Acceptable Age Difference When Dating?
If you were to ask two people from, say, Belgium and Saudi Arabia, what they thought was an “acceptable” age difference when dating, then you’d obviously get very different answers based on cultural norms. However, regardless of what culture you come from, it is considered acceptable – if not expected – for the man to be older than the woman.
In 1989, in what was probably the largest study on the issue of age gap in relationships, David Buss surveyed people from 37 cultures and 6 continents. In every culture, the men preferred younger women (2.66 years) and the women preferred older men (3.42 years). More recent studies, like the one by University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, have found the same preference across cultures worldwide. I guess all cultures think that “women mature faster than men.”
That leads us to the question of how much older is it okay for the man to be when dating?
Age Gap Preferences
Interestingly, the preference for a large age gap seems to be increasing. In a recent survey by Confused.com of 2,000 adults about the “ideal” age gap for a couple:
- Just less than half of the respondents said there was no ideal age gap
- 27% said that the man should be older than the woman
- 33% of women said they would be content in a relationship with a man up to 7 years older
- Most respondents said the ideal age gap is 4 years and 4 months
Other studies show an even larger preferred age gap between men and women. A 5-month study by a dating site which buys and sells first dates found the preferred age gap to be 6 years. In one study published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviorwhich analyzed dating advertisements,it was found that heterosexual men want a woman younger than them by about 14 years and women wanted a man who was at least 10 years older.
Remember, these are just age gap preferences! I’d prefer it if my girlfriend looked like Jenny McCarthy circa 1990. But, in reality, nobody lives up to your dreams.
Age Gap Preference vs. Reality
Despite the fact that men and women prefer an age gap of around 4+ years, the age gap in married couples is actually decreasing. US Census stats show that in the 1950s, the average age gap was 4 years. By the 1970s, it had halved. 2013 stats show that 66% of women are married to men within 1 year or up to 5 years older than them. That’s hardly reflects the increasing age gap preference!
Why is the age gap shrinking? As Psychology Today points out, women today have more career choices and are getting closer to equal pay, which means they are feeling less pressured to get married in order to achieve stability. The increase use of fertility treatments also probably has something to do with it too, since women don’t feel as pressured by the tick-tock of their biological clocks to have children.
Second Marriages More Likely to Have Large Age Gap
Recent stats show that marriages are within a small age gap. But there is an exception to this rule. A study published in Marriage and Family Reviewfound that divorced men are much more likely to remarry a much younger woman. This was NOT true with divorced women.
So why the big age gap with divorced men? It might have to do with the fact that many divorced men have children and alimonies to pay, something which younger women might tolerate better than a woman in the man’s own age bracket. It also might be because the men are looking for someone different than their ex wives. Or maybe they are scared of dating women their age after being out of the game so long…
The Acceptable Age Gap Formula
These surveys which lay out the “acceptable” or “preferred” age gap are a bit useless unless you take into account the age of the person. As you get older, the age gap matters less. For example, for a pair of teenagers, a 1 year age gap could make a big difference in maturity and life focus. With a 60 year old man, 10 years hardly seems like a big age gap.
To account for this, there is a good formula you can use to determine how young of a woman you can date:
Take the age of the older person. Divide it in half. Then add 7. This is the age of the youngest person you should date.
A 60 year old man:
- 60 ÷ 2 + 7 = 37
- A 60 year old man shouldn’t date a woman younger than 37
A 40 year old man:
- 40 ÷ 2 + 7 = 27
- A 40 year old man shouldn’t date a woman younger than 27
An 18 year old guy:
- 18 ÷ 2 + 7 = 16
- An 18 year old guy shouldn’t date a girl younger than 16
Why Do Women Prefer Dating Older Men?
According to Wall Street Insanity, the #1 reason why women date older men is security. There is a biological factor to this. In the past, the man needed to show he could defend and provide for his family in order to be appealing to a woman. Since men hit puberty later, and their hormones cool down a lot later, it is only logical that women worldwide have always sought out men a few years older than them. Hence, the phrase “men get better with age.” We won’t talk about what happens to women as they age here…
Today, men don’t have to go out and hunt food. We buy it. So, the “security” that women seek is mostly thought to mean money. Sorry, but the sad truth is that women are attracted to wealth. You Tango phrased it a bit more nicely by saying “women choose men who offer resources and stability.”
Don’t believe money has something to do with it? Just consider what this study found:
- Married women in the US were 4.1 years younger than married men
- Men featured on the Forbes list were married to women 7 years younger
- When super-rich men remarried, the age of the next wife was 22 years younger
This doesn’t mean you should assume that every woman dating an older man is a gold digger. In fact, the idea that older men are more financially stable is flawed. As The Frisky points out, an older man might make more money, but he probably has to pay alimony, child support, college tuition for his other kids, and stash away some cash for his imminent nursing care.
Some of the other reasons commonly cited for women dating older men is that they are better in bed, more chivalrous, have better apartments, more ready to have children, are patient, and more assertive. But none of these “pros” of dating older men necessarily hold up.
The Reality of Dating Older Men
If you look at all the so-called “pros” of dating older men, you will find that most of them have a dark underside which could make them a con.
- More financially stable: As mentioned above, older men might have more money, but they also often have to pay alimony, child support, and other expenses.
- Better in bed: Older men might have more experience, but a 60 year old is probably going to have a hard time keeping up with the sexual demands of a woman in her 20s – even with the help of Viagra!
- Chivalrous: Chivalry, or being “old fashioned” in etiquette is fine when the man is pulling out a chair, but most younger women will not tolerate their man snapping his fingers and demanding his evening cocktail.
- He’s probably having a midlife crisis: Many men enter into a relationship with a younger woman to make themselves feel more youthful and like they are “still in the game.”
- He has baggage: Chances are he’s got a second family, complete with kids, and needs to support them financially and emotionally. Be prepared to share your time!
- There is probably a reason he was single so long: If the older man doesn’t come with the baggage of a failed marriage, then women will want to ask themselves if there is a reason he has been single so long. Just because he’s older, it doesn’t mean he’s ready to settle down, or maybe he’s got narcissist issues.
- He might not have the energy for kids: Remember how easy it was to stay up all night while you were in college? Now think how much harder it is. Then imagine how difficult it would be for an older man to help his much-younger wife take care of their new baby.
- People will judge you: Of course, what other people think shouldn’t prevent you from obtaining true love – but women should be prepared to be treated like a gold digger.
- It shortens women’s lives: According to a study, women who marry older men die sooner than women who marry men in their age bracket (though marrying a younger woman helps men live longer!).
- Men “get better with age”: This may be true for George Clooney and Brad Pitt, but most of the men I know looked a lot better in their 20s and 30s before they had that large gut and receding hairline.
YES, Age Does Matter!
You’d be lying to yourself if you said that age doesn’t matter in relationships. Of course, it does! It just doesn’t matter as much as other relationship factors, like having common life goals, being at the same maturity level, being sexually compatible, supporting each other’s ambitions, and sharing the desire to have children or not.
If you have these things in common, then a few years (or decades) won’t matter. But, honestly, you are probably going to have a hard time finding those things in common with someone much older or younger than you – which is why the studies show many women prefer dating older men, but ultimately they marry men who are close to their age.