How Much Does Age Matter When You're Looking for a Mate?
Age may matter, but it is only one of several factors that are important when you are looking for love.
I tell my students that a good writer always keeps their audience in mind, and that when they write a paper in my class that audience is me. So, I have to wonder what was going through the head of one of my students last week when he submitted a paper with the line: "A woman over the age of forty looking for a mate is called a 'cougar.'" Besides the fact that he doesn't seem to have that definition quite right (and that the remark was random and unrelated to his topic) this comment did make me think about age and relationships. My own experience is that age matters and the evidence suggest that when it comes to marital stability differences in age can have large effects.
Those of you who have been reading Dollars and Sex for a while know that I am not a big fan of using married couple data to make statements about individual preferences for a mate. Just because we can observe a man who is married to a woman two years younger than him does not prove that he prefers a woman two years younger to one who was, say, ten years younger. It just proves that a woman two years younger fell within his acceptable age range and that his age fell simultaneously within her acceptable age range.
Like the Rolling Stones say: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need.” (Mick Jagger’s economics training really shines through in his music, I think.)
There are statistical methods to get around this matching problem, however, and to estimate mate preferences from the data in a way that assumes that each individual could choose freely from the set of potential partners available to them. When this is done for preferences over age it appears that men prefer a woman who is 1.9 years younger than themselves and women prefer a man 3.5 years older than themselves.* Male preference for women younger more than two years younger than themselves drops off, but not as quickly as a woman’s preference for younger men. In fact there the evidence is strongly against the idea that women are seeking younger mates.
When people do find a mate that is much younger, or much older, do those marriages last? According to a new study that uses Australian data, marriages where there is a big difference in ages have a much lower probability of success.** In fact, a marriage in which the man is a little as two years younger than his wife is 53% more likely to dissolve than one in which the man is one year younger or three years older. The problem isn’t just for older women, marriages in which the man is nine or more years older than his wife have double the chance they will not last.
I don’t really understand the cultural preoccupation with older women seeking younger men. The women I know who are with much younger men (yes Heather, I am talking about you) seem to be slightly embarrassed by that fact. It is too bad. Age may matter, but it is only one of several factors that are important when you are looking for love.
* Logan, John Allen, Peter D Hoff and Michael A Newton. “Two-Sided Estimation of Mate Preferences for Similarities in Age, Education, and Religion.” Journal of the American Statistical Association. June 1, 2008, 103(482): 559-569. doi:10.1198/016214507000000996.
** Kippen, Rebecca, Bruce Chapman, and Peng Yu . “What's love got to do with it? Homogamy and dyadic approaches to understanding marital instability.” Working Paper (2009).
Image courtesy of Flickr user Alex E. Proimos.
The way that you think about stress can actually transform the effect that it has on you – and others.
- Stress is contagious, and the higher up in an organization you are the more your stress will be noticed and felt by others.
- Kelly McGonigal teaches "Reset your mindset to reduce stress" for Big Think Edge.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Does believing in true love make people act like jerks?
- Ghosting, or the practice of cutting off all contact suddenly with a romantic partner, is a controversial method of dumping someone.
- People generally agree that it's bad form, but new research shows that people have surprisingly different opinions on the practice.
- Overall, people who are more destiny-oriented (more likely to believe that they have a soulmate) tend to approve of ghosting more, while people who are more growth-oriented (more likely to believe relationships are made rather than born) are less tolerant of ghosting.
"I was so moved when I saw the cells stir," said 90-year-old study co-author Akira Iritani. "I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."
- The team managed to stimulate nucleus-like structures to perform some biological processes, but not cell division.
- Unless better technology and DNA samples emerge in the future, it's unlikely that scientists will be able to clone a woolly mammoth.
- Still, studying the DNA of woolly mammoths provides valuable insights into the genetic adaptations that allowed them to survive in unique environments.
Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.
- Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
- Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
- Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.