The age gap debate seems to constantly come up. Men throw accusations of jealousy of younger women at women that express concern or disapproval. Women accuse men of being emotionally stunted or sexually depraved for voicing their preference for younger “fertile” women. Like everything examined and debated on the internet the issue is being exaggerated as it relates to real world scenarios.
Innocence is irresistible when you’ve lost it, most people believe innocence and age to be companions. Inexperience doesn’t necessarily translate to innocence or the merits of innocence, integrity and blamelessness. Examining the true nature of innocence is probably a separate discussion. Being chaste doesn’t necessarily translate to innocence either. Whether significant age gaps in relationships are wrong or not depends largely on intent. Nancy Etcoff states in her book, Survival of the Prettiest, “Once men get into their thirties, they start to fetishize younger women. If men marry a second time, their wives are on average five years younger than they. If they marry a third time, the new wife is likely to be eight years younger. A man may like a younger woman for many reasons including for his lost youth, the desire to play a father figure, the need to dominate and control, but the mating statistics reflect men's desire to mate with a maximally fertile woman, or at least one that looks that way.” A two- or three-year age difference with the bride being younger is typical for first time marriages. Anthropologist Suzanne Frayser analyzed 54 traditional cultures, she found that the highest frequency of brides was in the 12-15 years old age range, and the largest category for grooms was 18 years old. Across cultures people are not giving their 15-year-old daughters over to 30-year-old men for a variety of reasons most of which I would imagine rest on the societal problems associated with disenfranchising younger men from marriage and reproduction.
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The findings for men regarding age gap relationships are consistent. Male mortality increases when the wife is older and decreases when the wife is younger. The younger the wife is compared with her spouse, the lower the mortality of the husband; the older the wife is compared with her spouse, the higher the mortality of the husband. Comparatively, an excess mortality of more than 30% can be found in married men who are more than 7 years but less than 17 years younger than their wives. Married men who are more than 15 years but less than 17 years older have a chance of dying that is 4% lower. Wealthy men that are older than their wives experienced a significantly elevated risk of dying of about 5%. Health selection is one of the explanations of mortality differences, fitter and healthier men will have access to younger women so of course they live longer they are in better shape. They would have lived longer regardless of who they married as physical vitality and health usually coincide with increased longevity. It’s simple cause and effect. There is the added effect of a younger woman being more physically and mentally capable of caregiving in later life. There are also possibly positive psychological effects of having a younger spouse, a man may be more invested in his health and vitality to “keep up” with his younger wife. A second explanation refers to spousal interaction. There may be something psychologically, sociologically, or physiologically beneficial about a relationship with a younger spouse. There are psychological determinants of mortality such as social and interpersonal influences, happiness, self-concept, and social status.
However, extreme differences in age which are usually defined as anything greater than 8 years are associated with higher mortality rates. Generally, “conformity to the social norm, the man being older than his wife, is associated with relatively lower mortality for both parties. Female mortality is higher if the wife is younger than her husband. Women who are more than 7 years, but less than 17 years younger have an excess mortality of about 10%. In contrast to men, women have an elevated risk of dying when they are older than their spouses. An excess mortality of 40% is observed in women who are more than 15 years but less than 17 years older than their spouses. The lowest risk of dying is found in women who are about the same age as their husbands. There are drawbacks of some of the studies reviewed most of their data is limited and did not include information about additional variables. Most of the results demonstrated having a younger spouse is beneficial for men but detrimental for women. Research has found that women usually have more social contacts than men. Suggesting that women are probably less dependent on the health and social support of a younger spouse than men, a younger spouse would be less beneficial for women’s survival than for the survival of men.
One study examined desired minimum and maximum ages for mates across five different levels of relationship involvement (marriage, serious relationship, falling in love, casual sex, and sexual fantasies) comparing individuals of 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 years old. Women preferred partners of their own age, regardless of their own age and regardless of the level of relationship involvement. Men, regardless of their own age, desired mates for short-term mating and for sexual fantasies who were in their reproductive years. Men's desire for good looks in a short-term partner is extremely high. This may substantiate why things like porn and anime etc. are popular as they satiate the desire for attractiveness and youth signals that men desire in short term mating. Concerning long-term mates, men preferred mates younger than them, and sometimes above the age of maximum fertility.
Only about 8% of all married couples have an age gap of 10 years or more. In most marriages, men are older than their wives. In most cultures the prevailing age discrepancy in marriages has the man at 2 to 3 years older than the woman. Couples with an age gap of 1 to 3 years (with the man older than the woman) are the most common and tend to report the greatest level of satisfaction. Heterosexual couples with large age gaps being defined as 10 years or more had a faster decline in relationship satisfaction in their first 6 to 10 years of marriage than similarly aged couples. Relationship satisfaction decreased slightly for couples with age gaps of 4 to 6 years and continued to decrease for couples with an age gap of 7 or more years. After surveying more than 3,000 men and women a few years ago, researchers from Emory University found that even a 5-year age difference resulted in an 18 percent higher likelihood of divorce compared to couples who were the same age. The research also suggested that a 10-year age gap boosted a couple’s chance of divorce by 39%, and a 20-year gap led to a 95% increase. An age difference of only 1 year just resulted in a 3% higher chance for divorce.
Generally, romantic relationships with large age differences between partners are deemed less acceptable, more disgusting, and less likely to be successful. Previous research has shown that romantic relationships with large age discrepancies are more likely to dissolve and have higher rates of intimate partner homicide compared to similar age relationships. Large age differences may present a particular set of relationship challenges which increase the risks of disunion and domestic violence. Studies have found that couples with large age gaps have a higher rate of intimate partner homicide that rate is considerably higher for couples where the man is at least 16 years older than the woman, or the woman is at least 10 years older than the man. The pattern was found to replicate regardless of whether the man or the woman was the homicide offender. Further results showed that the higher risk of intimate partner homicide did not depend on a previous arrest record of the offender.
Men and women engage in mate choice copying, mimesis. Often people assume that partners are exploiting or being exploited by one another in relationships with large age gaps. This is largely why relationships with older women are considered non-ideal as the younger man is regarded as taking advantage and not really interested in the older woman. Because relationships with large age gaps are perceived as based on explicit exchange rather than mutual concern for each other's well-being, people perceive age discrepant relationships as exploitatory and morally offensive.
Egocentric moralization may explain why some people condemn age discrepant relationships. Age discrepant relationships encroach upon age based assortative mating; disapproval functions to protect the interests of those who stand to lose from such encroachments, considering this an older married or partnered woman has nothing to gain from condemning older men for dating younger women unless she is protecting social norms or is externalizing some anxiety, she has regarding her mate being attracted to younger women. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, most age discrepant relationships are between an older man and a younger woman. This is undoubtedly driven by men's sexual preference for youth. There are many studies that demonstrate men rate women in their early 20s as most attractive regardless of their own age, whereas women rate men slightly older than themselves as most attractive.
As pointed out earlier older men tend to benefit more from being in a relationship with a younger woman. Older women and younger men, lose the most when older men prefer younger women for romantic partnerships. Older women stand to be dispossessed by younger women if their partners or potential partners decide to pursue younger women. There are many accounts from fundamentalist Mormon communities concerning the disenfranchisement of younger men by older men for access to younger women.
Relationships with large age gaps between the man and woman are sometimes regarded as prostitution or as expressly transactional. This is judgmental as intelligence isn't only a function of age, an older man may have other interests in a relationship other than rigorous intellectual engagement or shared generational experiences. Casual sex and short-term mating lowers the price of sex, which can be principally precarious for women's sexual strategies. Women stand to gain when the price of sex is higher. Women often disparage a female rivals promiscuity; men are more supportive socially and legally of prostitution than women. Studies have also found older men are more supportive of prostitution than younger men. Age discrepant relationships are often judged as a commodification of sex, young women involved in them are seen as not “in love” and only interested in the man's financial resources and or clout. Intrasexual competition between older women with younger women is largely regarded as pathetic and distasteful. Whereas older men engaging in intrasexual competition with younger men is not regarded as a desperate attempt at competing with younger men. Perhaps this is ameliorated by older men's insistence that preference for younger women is driven by youth as a signal for fertility and not merely validation of their own attractiveness and desirability. If it's established that younger women are more desirable, then maybe the man is hoping a younger woman means he will be perceived as more desirable.
Nonobservant of sex, it is younger people that disapprove of man older, large age gap relationships more than older people of either sex. Studies have found that younger women ratify prostitution more than young men. Woman-older age gap relationships are appraised lower in acceptability, happiness, and feasibility of long-term durability. Relationships with large age gaps can trigger incest evasion disgust responses, these relationships may resemble parent-child romantic relationships to some. Research has demonstrated many times that there is substantially more opposition to female older age gap relationships than to male older ones. Infidelity, violence, exploitative dynamics in relationships are cross culturally condemned as “immoral” conduct. From an evolutionary psychological angle this shared value is explained by those with the highest mate value, reap the most benefits when those morals are removed, calculated moralization prohibits the most adept members of a group from succeeding at the expense of others. This could also be an explanation for the campaign to immoralize relationships with large age gaps.
Evolutionary psychologists explain the fact that women are attracted to older men and men are attracted to younger women in terms of economic exchange that are established in traditional sex role norms. Male’s preferences for relatively younger females should be nominal during their early mating years and becomes more arresting as they get older. Young females are expected to prefer somewhat older males during their early mating years, this preference does not become more pronounced as they age. Evolutionary psychologists theorized that men and women evolved preferences for specific and differing characteristics in potential romantic partners because they invest different resources to reproduce. Men usually invest resources such as food, shelter, and security. Therefore, women should be more attracted to men who possess those resources or demonstrate potential at obtaining those resources. Men are more likely to accumulate more of those desired resources as they age, evolutionarily women should prefer men who are older than themselves. Consequently, men favor women who appear to be healthy and fertile, to improve successful sexual reproduction. Women can get pregnant from puberty until menopause, the average age of onset of menopause in the United States is 51-52 years of age. Peak reproductive capability for women is in their twenties. Given the definite fertility window for women, youth is an important visible cue of a woman’s fertility. It makes sense men should prefer (sexually) particularly those who are in their twenties. This also explains why younger men don’t tend to prefer partners much younger than themselves as an already youthful man won't have the anxiety that some older men may have about ability to successfully reproduce.
The prevailing trend for older men to pair with younger women is a worldwide circumstance, documented in virtually all past and present human societies. Current data indicates that the average marital age gap in North America is just under three years (2.7 years on average in both the United States and Canada), with the disparity favoring men as the older partners. Marital age gaps throughout Europe and South America are similar. There is some variability in the size of the age discrepancies in other cultures. The average age disparity between married couples in some African countries is three times the size of those in most Western countries, at 10 years or more. A complete change in cultural norms in the West would have to occur to normalize large age discrepant relationships. It is interesting that many of those that want traditional gender roles are also defenders of large age discrepant relationships and campaign against their immortalization.
For most men, the minimum acceptable age is usually 5 to 15 years younger for a female partner. In juxtaposition, women’s maximum acceptable age for a male partner is about 10 years above their own age, this preference remains constant as women age. As men age, their propensity to partner with someone younger increases. The older a woman is at the time of marriage, the smaller the size of the age discrepancy. When men remarry, the new union is likely to carry a greater age difference than the first marriage. According to a study by Pew Research Center men are much more likely than women to remarry after divorce or widowhood. In their analysis, for second marriages, men are much more likely to go younger: 38% of men choose a significantly younger woman, compared to 11% of women. One in five men who remarry wed a woman at least 10 years younger, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census data. By contrast, only 1 in 20 men on their first marriage couple with someone that much younger.
Identifying the minimum age discrepancy that would persistently be perceived as violating social conventions is challenging. What a genuinely age discrepant relationship is in society, is somewhat subjective. A 5–10-year age gap means little when the younger partner is 55 years old. However, a 5-year age difference means much more when the younger partner is 16 or 17 years old which are the ages of sexual consent in most Western countries. Thus, it is difficult to pinpoint the minimum age gap threshold that would consistently be perceived as violating social conventions. Regardless of the age of the individuals involved it seems that age differences of 10 years or more are customarily perceived as non-normative, except by older men. An age gap of 10 years or more is more likely to be enough of a distance in a relationship for emotional maturity and differences in stages of self-actualization to demonstrate dissimilitude between the partners that may cause acrimony.
Age gap relationships can also be explained by equity and social exchange perspectives. Social exchange theory proposes that how we feel about a social interaction or relationship fundamentally depends on the costs and benefits associated with it. An older man providing resources for a young, attractive woman is regarded as a social exchange, he provides for her financially and she provides access to sex. Most people’s feelings concerning their relationships depend on whether the social exchanges that occur are regarded as equitable. Equitable or fair exchanges are necessary to avoid conflict. In Western society women are typically regarded as holding less social power and status than men, the exchange of sex for resources conveys benefits for both men and women. Due to the power imbalance this dynamic is often seen as not equitable for women. From this perspective, relationships involving an older woman with a younger man should be more egalitarian and have greater relationship satisfaction compared to relationships in which the women are the younger partner.
You often witness on social media that those that desire or imagine themselves as future homemakers emphasize the importance of the provider qualities of potential mates which typically includes the desire for an older spouse. Actual surveys have also found that men who imagine themselves as future providers while highlighting the importance of homemaker qualities also express desire for a younger spouse. Both men and women's acceptance of age gap relationships seem to be a capacity of how much they accede to traditional gender role beliefs. They may actually subscribe to beliefs of traditional gender roles, it could also be a tactic used by men to attract younger women as those women usually have a more favorable regard for coupling with older men or used by women to attract men that are more likely to be providers. Possibly the most practical advice Kevin Samuels ever gave was disabusing women that didn’t grow up in traditional households that being a homemaker is a vacation and something they are equipped for just be virtue of being a woman and not something that takes years of preparation and training to prepare for. Instead of being lured in by verbal assurance make sure you obtain a demonstration as well. He should be demonstrating without prompt he is a provider and she without prompt should be demonstrating she can make a home. Another interesting point is that many older men will say the prefer younger women as they are more traditional or submissive but perhaps it's not a generalization related to age and more so a consequence of the types of young women that would be receptive to a much older man.
If you are on social media, you will hear constantly from men, especially when Leonardo DiCaprio appears with another girlfriend 20 years his junior that older women are jealous and instigate backlash against older men for dating younger women. Interestingly studies have found that older women in relationships with younger men are more likely to be the targets of opposition. Women bear the weight of the social critique against age discrepant couples, while the men involved seem to be ignored or congratulated. The label “cougar” even infers sexual predation rather than actual love or mutual desire. Because being with an older male may yield more predictable economic results, younger women bear the brunt of criticism when with older men and are labeled as “gold-diggers.” In one study, couples a gap in their ages reported experiencing significantly more social disapproval than individuals involved in gay or interracial relationships.
Perceived marginalization significantly increases the likelihood of separation. The perception of social disapproval can degrade commitment to the relationship as people are substantially influenced by mimesis to inform their choice of mates. Like any relationship, those surrounded by more support have better relationship outcomes. Results of one study revealed that age discrepant relationships where the husband was older than the wife was associated with increases in life satisfaction for both men and women. The reported increase in satisfaction may come from both partners operating in traditional gender roles, not just age discrepancy being the primary cause for increased satisfaction. In this study both men and women were happier with their lives when the husband was older than the wife, compared to households in which spouses were of the same age or the wife was older than the husband. In a study following couples with a 4-year age gap it was found that they were more trusting, less jealous and selfish in their relationships compared to people that were similar in age to their partners. Perhaps in age gap relationships there's more maturity practiced in accepting differences and allowing for some autonomy as each person is granting the other allowances based on mutual understanding that the other may have different age-based interests or needs, which could lead them to be more trusting and less jealous. Interestingly, in relationships where the women are older, they were found to be the most committed to their relationships, considerably more compared to women who were similar in age to their partners. Commitment levels for younger women partners falls in between those of the other two groups. If we apply the evolutionary opinion, you will think that commitment would he highest among young women. More equality between partners may establish the accentuated level of commitment found in relationships where the woman is older, they may also just have matured emotionally and therefore better equipped to be in a relationship.
Let’s go back to mimesis, female mate choice copying is a phenomenon whereby women use the company and quality of a man’s mate as a cue to his own quality. Female mate choice copying is moderated by women’s belief that men partnered to attractive women possess unobservable qualities that women value in their romantic partners. There have been countless studies done mostly as it related to females, demonstrating that female mate choice copying is real. One of the reasons women lobby against men choosing much younger women is that younger women preferring much older men infers that perhaps their own mate assessment was not accurate. It could also be that younger inexperienced women are just copying the mate choices of older women and choosing a man from that demographic. Most women look for ways to reduce the time spent on mate quality assessment. There is evidence that female mate choice copying can negate genetically based preferences. Older women may also be concerned that men’s preferences not being directed toward their age group infers that they personally are not desirable. If men by and large pick women like me that means I have value. If the women that are deemed to have the most value in the sexual marketplace (young women) prefer men that are significantly older then that means older men hold more value and they may have chosen wrong when choosing their mate.
There are limited studies on male mate choice copying. Recent studies do demonstrate that male mate choice decisions are influenced by the social environment. Group-living animals often choose their mates in front of other conspecifics of the same or opposite sex which form parts of a bigger communication network, social information is a key factor affecting mate choice decisions. It’s interesting that males will also cease expression of mate preference in the presence of other males to deter them from copying their mate choice or demonstrate preference for a non-preferred female to mislead a competitor. If it’s true, that most men prefer younger women this may be why some men protest age discrepant relationships with women.
I hesitate to give a personal assessment regarding age discrepant relationships. I think like in any relationship intent is important. If youth is a commodity in the sexual marketplace, then I don’t think young women should demand anything less than swift and complete commitment. Based on what was presented it’s aberrant for men in their mid to late 20s to desire women significantly younger than them, developmentally and socially they should not have the same concerns as a man in his 40s concerning sexual access and reproduction. As I said I am hesitant to address grooming and what that is or is not among adults that are of age. I do know that 8-10 years more adult life experience is significant in a relationship. Sometimes inexperience can be exploited. Youth is often seen as moldable, so sometimes, older men or women that may have bad habits in romantic relationships may specifically want someone younger, counting on their youth bringing with it inexperience so their maladaptive behaviors can fly under the radar. They can placate their youthful partner by reminding them they are just young or don’t understand relationships. I think often this the concern most older women and women in general are trying to convey when they protest age discrepant relationships and misapply the term “grooming.” Age discrepant relationships also allow for the younger partner to infuse vitality into the relationship and the older person to bring wisdom and experience.
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