I had a drink with a friend a few weeks ago who informed me that the only men looking for a woman my age (mid-forties) are men in their early to mid-sixties. After I beat him senseless with my old-lady handbag, I thought to myself: There has to be some empirical evidence that shows whether or not this is true.
Here is what I found out: not only are most men in their sixties not looking for significantly younger women, but I am equally likely to end up with a man who is 12 years younger than myself as I am a man who is 15 years older than myself.
Psychologists at Berkley found using data collected from Yahoo!Personals that as men age they seek women who are increasingly younger than themselves. For example, men between the age of 20-34 seek women who are younger than themselves by one year, on average, while men who are between the age 60-74 seek women who are younger by 8 years.
So while my friend might be right in thinking that older men seek younger women, his prediction that I can expect a 15-20 year age gap is unsubstantiated. In fact, I am too young for almost all the men in the sample who are above age of fifty-four. The men looking for women my age are between one and eight years older than myself, with an average preferred gap of men this age of about five years.
So for example, a woman who is exactly 44 (like me) will attract men who are between the ages of 45 and 52, with the average age of a man who is interested in her being 49-years-old.
To be fair, the 15-20 year prediction stemmed from his own experience that women in their late twenties are interested in dating men his age (early fifties). If women my age are competing with women who are significantly younger than ourselves, then it is true that when the dating market clears (and everyone finds themselves with a mate) we could be left with much older men.
According to this data, however, younger women do not express a willingness to date much older men, and that this effect increases as women age – older women actually are more likely to seek a partner who is younger than they are than they are a partner who is older.
Regardless of my friend’s personal experience, men his age are well outside of the acceptable age range of women in their late twenties and early thirties. The average woman who is looking for a man in his early fifties is between seven years younger and four years older than that man, with an average preferred age gap of women this age of about two years.
So for example, a man who is exactly 50 will attract women who are between 43 and 54 with the average age of women who is interested in him being around 48-years-old.
Just to see what things look like at the end of the market, so to speak, I took a quick look at the IPUM data for people who tied the knot in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and found that many, many men in those years married women much younger than themselves. About 50% of newly married men between the ages of 40 and 65 married women who were 5 or more years younger than themselves.
However, there were also many men who married women older than themselves. In fact, about 17% of newly married women, age 40-65, married men who were more than five years younger than themselves.
According to this data, if I were a random draw from the population I would have the same probability of marrying a man 12 years younger (about 5%) as I would a man 15 years older than myself.
Here is the thing: I am not a random draw from the population because I am much better educated than the average woman my age. A new economics paper finds that being well educated significantly increases my chances of marrying a younger man.
They argue that the significant increase in “Toyboy” relationships since 1980 (ones in which a older woman married a younger man) has been driven by the increase in female educational attainment relative to that of men. It seems that given increases in women’s earning potential some men, at least, are willing to forgo having a younger wife in favor finding an economically successful older woman who can provide them with financial stability.
According to the evidence, a woman who is better educated and in a higher occupational class than her husband has a 45% better chance being married to man more than five years her junior than does the average woman.
As one last check of my prospects for finding love outside of a retirement community, I asked my friends who are veteran online daters to share their experience with age and matching. This may not be very scientific, but I did learn a piece of information that may be useful to older male online daters. The women I spoke to read men’s profiles to see the acceptable age range for potential mates. They do this not only to see if they are suitable, but also because the age range itself reveals information about the men’s priorities in dating. A fifty-year-old man who claims his ideal woman is between the ages of 25 and 40 is someone that women will avoid, even if their age falls within that range.
After all, who wants to be with a man who put such a high premium on youth when aging (for all of us) is completely unavoidable?
Alterovitz, S. S. R. and G. A. Mendelsohn. 2009. "Partner Preferences Across the Life Span: Online Dating by Older Adults." Psychology and aging, 24(2): 513.
Coles, M. G. and M. Francesconi. 2011. "On the Emergence of Toyboys: The Timing of Marriage with Aging and Uncertain Careers" International Economic Review, 52(3): 825-853.
Ruggles, S.J.; T. Alexander; K. Genadek; R. Goeken; M. B. Schroeder and M. Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center [producer and distributor], 2010.