Age disparity in sexual relationships

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Age disparity in sexual relationships and sexual relationships between individuals of a significant difference in age have been documented for most of recorded history and have been regarded with a wide range of attitudes, from normalized acceptance to taboo. Concepts of these relationships and of the exact definition of a "significant" age disparity have developed over time and vary between societies,[1] legal systems (particularly with regards to the age of consent),[2] and ethical systems. These views are rarely uniform even within cultures and are affected by views of consent, marriage, and gender roles, and by perceptions of social and economic differences between age groups.

Marriage between partners of roughly similar age is known as "age homogamy".[3]


Age difference in heterosexual married couples, 2013 US Current Population Survey[4]
Age difference Percentage
Husband 20+ years older than wife
Husband 15–19 years older than wife
Husband 10–14 years older than wife
Husband 6–9 years older than wife
Husband 4–5 years older than wife
Husband 2–3 years older than wife
Husband and wife within 1 year
Wife 2–3 years older than husband
Wife 4–5 years older than husband
Wife 6–9 years older than husband
Wife 10–14 years older than husband
Wife 15–19 years older than husband
Wife 20+ years older than husband

Data in Australia[5] and United Kingdom[6] 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.[7] Older women sometimes date younger men as well,[8] and in both cases wealth and physical attractiveness are often relevant.

Most men marry women younger than they are; with the difference being between two to three years in Spain,[3] with the UK reporting the difference to be on average about three years, and the US, two and a half.[9][10] The pattern was also confirmed for the rest of the world, with the gap being largest in Africa.[11] A study released in 2003 by the United Kingdom's Office for National Statistics concluded that the proportion of women in England and Wales marrying younger men rose from 15% to 26% between 1963 and 1998. The study also showed a higher divorce rate as the age difference rose when the woman was older and a lower divorce rate as the age difference rose when the man was older.[12] A 2008 study, however, concluded that the difference is not significant.[13][14]

In August 2010, 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 ... did females show a preference for males significantly younger than male preferences for females" and that there was a "consistent cross-cultural preference by women for at least same-age or significantly older men". A 2003 AARP study reported that 34% of women over 39 years old were dating younger men.[15]

A 2011 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.[16]

Reasons for age disparity[edit]

Explanations for age disparity usually focus on either the rational choice model or the analysis of demographic trends in a society.[3] The rational choice model 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.[3] This factor is diminishing as more women enter the labor force and the gender pay gap decreases.[3] The demographic trends are concerned with the gender ratio in the society, the marriage squeeze, and migration patterns.[3] Another explanation concerns cultural values: the higher the value placed in having children, the higher the age gap will be.[11]

As people have chosen to marry later, the age differences between couples have increased as well.[3][13]

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.[1] One of the concerns of relationships with age disparities in some cultures is a perceived difference between people of different age ranges. 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.[17]

Modern culture[edit]

The "half-your-age-plus-seven" rule[edit]

Graph of the half-age-plus-seven rule

The "never date anyone under half your age plus seven" rule is a rule of thumb sometimes used to judge whether the age differences in potential intimate relationships are socially acceptable within the American culture.[18][19][20]

Although the origin of the rule is unclear, it is sometimes considered to have French origin.[18] There is no scientific evidence to support the rule.

In the earlier sources the rule had a different interpretation than in contemporary culture, as it was understood as a formula to calculate suitable age for the bride, instead of a lower limit for the suitable age. Max O'Rell's Her Royal Highness Woman from 1901 gives the rule in the format "A man should marry a woman half his age, plus seven."[21] Similar interpretation is also present in the 1951 play The Moon Is Blue by F. Hugh Herbert.[22]

The half-your-age-plus seven rule also appears in John Fox, Jr.'s The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come in 1903,[23] in American newspapers in 1931, attributed to Maurice Chevalier,[24] and in The Autobiography of Malcolm X.[25]

In modern times this rule has been criticised as being more accurate for men than women, and for allowing a greater maximum age for a woman's partner later in her life than is actually socially acceptable.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Casterline, John; Williams, Lindy; McDonald, Peter (1986). "The Age Difference Between Spouses: Variations among Developing Countries". Population Studies 40 (3): 353. doi:10.1080/0032472031000142296. 
  2. ^ "What is the Age of Consent to Sexual Intercourse?". 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Long Term Trends in Marital Age Homogamy Patterns: Spain, 1922-2006". 2009-08-21. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  4. ^ "Married Couple Family Groups, By Presence Of Own Children Under 18, And Age, Earnings, Education, And Race And Hispanic Origin Of Both Spouses". U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2013 Annual Social and Economic Supplement. 2013. 
  5. ^ "Distribution of the Difference in Age Between Couples at First Marriage(a), 1974 and 1995". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 27 December 2014. 
  6. ^ Ben Wilson and Steve Smallwood. "Age differences at marriage and divorce". Office for National Statistics. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 27 December 2014. 
  7. ^ Kenrick, Douglas; Keefe, Richard; Gabrielidis, Cristina; Comelius, Jeffrey (1996). "Adolescents' Age Preferences for Dating Partners: Support for an Evolutionary Model of Life-History Strategies". Child Development 67 (4): 1499–1511. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1996.tb01810.x. PMID 8890497. 
  8. ^ Hakim, Catherine (2010). "Erotic Capital". European Sociological Review 26 (5): 499–518. doi:10.1093/esr/jcq014. 
  9. ^ Wardrop, Murray (2009-06-02). "Men 'live longer' if they marry a younger woman". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  10. ^ Wang, Wendy (2012-02-16). "The Rise of Intermarriage - Page 3 | Pew Social & Demographic Trends - Page 3". Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  11. ^ a b Zhang, Xu; Polachek, Solomon W. (October 2007). "The Husband-Wife Age Gap at First Marriage: A Cross-Country Analysis" (PDF). Retrieved 28 February 2015. 
  12. ^ "More women marrying younger men". BBC News. 12 December 2003. 
  13. ^ a b Ben Wilson and Steve Smallwood, "Age differences at marriage and divorce", Population Trends 132, Summer 2008, Office for National Statistics [1]
  14. ^ Strauss, Delphine (2008-06-26). "Age gap is no risk to marriages, ONS says". Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  15. ^ Moss, Hilary (August 22, 2010). "New Study Claims No Cougar Trend, Dating Websites Attempt To Show Otherwise". Huffington Post. Retrieved 11 September 2010. 
  16. ^ Ian Sample. "Marrying a younger man increases a woman's mortality rate | Science". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  17. ^ Luke, N. (2005). "Confronting the 'Sugar Daddy' Stereotype: Age and Economic Asymmetries and Risky Sexual Behavior in Urban Kenya". International Family Planning Perspectives 31 (1): 6–14. doi:10.1363/3100605. JSTOR 3649496. PMID 15888404. 
  18. ^ a b Rodale, Inc. (April 2007). Best Life. Rodale, Inc. p. 21. ISSN 1548-212X. 
  19. ^ Hans Erikson (1964). The Rhythm of the Shoe. Jacaranda Press. p. 87. 
  20. ^ Belisa Vranich & Laura Grashow (2008). Dating the Older Man. Adams Media. p. 16. 
  21. ^ Max O'Rell. "Chapter IV: Advice to the Man Who Wants to Marry". Her Royal Highness Woman. Retrieved January 18, 2015. 
  22. ^ Moon Is blue.: [A play: Herbert, Frederick Hugh] at Internet Archive
  23. ^ John Fox (1903). The little shepherd of Kingdom Come. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 222. 
  24. ^ "Maurice Chevalier seven years". Detroit News item reprinted in Oakland (CA) News, 27 August 1931.
  25. ^ Malcolm X & Alex Haley (1965). The Autobiography of Malcolm X. 
  26. ^ "The Half-Your-Age-Plus-Seven Rule: Does It Really Work?". Psychology Today. 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-05.