Age-disparity relationships have been documented for most of recorded history and have been regarded with a wide range of attitudes dependent on sociocultural norms and legal systems. Data in Australia  and United Kingdom  show an almost identical pattern. Relationships with age disparity of all kinds have been observed with both men and women as the older or younger partner. In various cultures, older men and younger women often seek one another for sexual or marital relationships. Most men marry women younger than they are; with the difference being between two and three years in Spain,  the UK reporting the difference to be on average about three years, and the US, two and a half.
Another study also showed a higher divorce rate as the age difference rose for when either the woman was older or the man was older.
In August , Michael Dunn of the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff completed and released the results of a study on age disparity in dating. Dunn concluded that "Not once across all ages and countries A study suggested that age disparity in marriage is positively correlated with decreased longevity, particularly for women, though married individuals still have longer lifespans than singles.
Explanations for age disparity usually focus on either the rational choice model or the analysis of demographic trends in a society. The demographic trends are concerned with the gender ratio in the society, the marriage squeeze , and migration patterns. As people have chosen to marry later, the age differences between couples have increased as well.
In a Brown University study, it has been noted that the social structure of a country determines the age difference between spouses more than any other factor. These differences may be sexual, financial or social in nature. Gender roles may complicate this even further. Socially, a society with a difference in wealth distribution between older and younger people may affect the dynamics of the relationship. Although the " cougar " theme, in which older women date much younger men, is often portrayed in the media as a widespread and established facet of modern Western culture, at least one academic study has found the concept to be a "myth".
A British psychological study published in Evolution and Human Behavior in concluded that men and women, in general, continued to follow traditional gender roles when searching for mates.
The study found that, as supported by other academic studies, most men preferred younger, physically attractive women, while most women, of any age, preferred successful, established men their age or older. The study found very few instances of older women pursuing much younger men and vice versa. The evolutionary approach, based on the theories of Charles Darwin , attempts to explain age disparity in sexual relationships in terms of natural selection and sexual selection.
Parental Investment Theory refers to the value that is placed on a potential mate based on reproductive potential and reproductive investment. The theory predicts that preferred mate choices have evolved to focus on reproductive potential and reproductive investment of members of the opposite sex. However, human males tend to have more parental investment compared to mammal males although females still tend to have more parental investment.
These two theories explain why natural and sexual selection acts slightly differently on the two sexes so that they display different preferences. For example, different age preferences may be a result of sex differences in mate values assigned to the opposite sex at those ages. A study conducted by David Buss investigated sex differences in mate preferences in 37 cultures with 10, participants. In all 37 cultures it was found that males preferred females younger than themselves and females preferred males older than themselves.
These age preferences were confirmed in marriage records with males marrying females younger than them and vice versa. As well as asking participants a number of questions on mate selection criteria, they also had to provide the oldest and youngest partner they would accept.
It was found that for all ages males were willing to accept females that are slightly older than they are on average 4. Females demonstrate a complementary pattern, being willing to accept considerably older males on average 8 years older and were also willing to accept males slightly younger than themselves on average 5 years younger. This is somewhat different to our close evolutionary relatives: Male chimpanzees tend to prefer older females than younger and it is suggested that specific cues of female mate value are very different to humans.
Buss attributed the male preference for younger females to certain youthful cues. In females, relative youth and physical attractiveness which males valued more compared to females demonstrated cues for fertility and high reproductive capacity. Teenage males also report that their ideal mates would be several years older than themselves.
Buss and Schmitt  stress that although long-term mating relationships are common for humans, there are both short-term and long-term mating relationships. Buss and Schmitt provided a Sexual Strategies Theory that describes the two sexes as having evolved distinct psychological mechanisms that underlie the strategies for short- and long-term mating. This theory is directly relevant and compatible with those two already mentioned, Life History and Parental Investment.
Age disparity in sexual relationships
As they are the higher-investing sex, females tend to be slightly more demanding when picking a mate as predicted by parental investment theory. In contrast to above, in short-term mating, females will tend to favour males that demonstrate physical attractiveness, as this displays cues of 'good genes'. Cross-culturally, research has consistently supported the trend in which males prefer to mate with younger females, and females with older males. Analysing the results further, cross culturally, the average age females prefer to marry is Males however prefer to marry when they are The results from the study therefore show that the mean preferred marriage age difference 3.
The preferred age of females is However, in some regions of the world there is a substantially larger age gap between marriage partners in that males are much older than their wife or wives. A theory that can explain this finding from an evolutionary perspective is the parasite-stress theory which explains that an increase of infectious disease can cause humans to evolve selectively according to these pressures.
Evidence also shows that as disease risk gets higher, it puts a level of stress on mating selection and increases the use of polygamy. Table 2 shows that 17 of the 20 countries with the largest age-gaps between spouses practice polygyny , and that males range from 6. In regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa the use of polygyny is commonly practiced as a consequence of high sex-ratios more males born per females and passing on heterozygous diverse genetics from different females to offspring.
Another reason that polygynous communities have larger age-gaps between spouses is that intrasexual competition for females increases as fewer females remain on the marriage market with males having more than one wife each , therefore the competitive advantage values younger females due to their higher reproductive value. Comparatively in Western societies such as the US and Europe, there is a trend of smaller age-gaps between spouses, reaching its peak average in Southern Europe of 3. Using the same pathogen-stress model, there is a lower prevalence of disease in these economically developed areas, and therefore a reduced stress on reproduction for survival.
Additionally, it is common to see monogamous relationships widely in more modern societies as there are more women in the marriage market and polygamy is illegal throughout most of Europe and the United States. As access to education increases worldwide, the age of marriage increases with it, with more of the youth staying in education for longer. 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.
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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  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.
Age disparity in sexual relationships - Wikipedia
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.
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. That is, if people in age-gap couples believe their family, friends and wider community disapprove of their union, then relationship commitment decreases and the risk of break-up increases. These effects appear to apply to heterosexual and same-sex couples.
So the negative outcomes for age-gap couples seem to reside not in problems within the couple, but in pressures and judgments from the outside world. Another factor at play may have to do with the stage of life each partner is experiencing. For instance, a ten-year gap between a year-old and a year-old may bring up different challenges and issues than for a ten-year gap where one partner is 53 and the other is This is because our lives are made up of different stages, and each stage consists of particular life tasks we need to master.
And we give priority to the mastery of different tasks during these distinct stages of our lives. The success of a relationship depends on the extent to which partners share similar values, beliefs and goals about their relationship; support each other in achieving personal goals; foster relationship commitment, trust and intimacy; and resolve problems in constructive ways.
These factors have little do with age. So the reality is, while an age gap may bring about some challenges for couples, so long as couples work at their relationship, age should be no barrier. Dealers, collectors and curators: Standing up for minorities in Egypt — York, York. An analytical journey measuring contaminants in water around the globe — Portsmouth, Hampshire. Conserving the Herringham Collection — Egham, Surrey. Available editions United Kingdom. Age-gap couples often raise eyebrows, but report greater relationship satisfaction. Gery Karantzas , Deakin University.
This is probably because women place more importance on resources and men on fertility. What are the relationship outcomes for age-gap couples? We produce articles written by researchers and academics. Be part of The Conversation. You might also like.