Age disparity in sexual relationships
||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (May 2015)|
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, legal systems (particularly with regards to the age of consent), 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.
|Age difference||Percentage of All Married Couples|
|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||
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. Older women sometimes date younger men as well, and in both cases wealth and physical attractiveness are often relevant. Nevertheless, because men generally are interested in women in their twenties, adolescent boys are generally sexually interested in women somewhat older than themselves.
Most men marry women younger than they are; with the difference being between two to three years in Spain, the UK reporting the difference to be on average about three years, and the US, two and a half. The pattern was also confirmed for the rest of the world, with the gap being largest in Africa. 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. A 2008 study, however, concluded that the difference is not significant.
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.
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.
Reasons for age disparity
Explanations for age disparity usually focus on either the rational choice model or the analysis of demographic trends in a society. 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. This factor is diminishing as more women enter the labor force and the gender pay gap decreases. The demographic trends are concerned with the gender ratio in the society, the marriage squeeze, and migration patterns. Another explanation concerns cultural values: the higher the value placed in having children, the higher the age gap will be.
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. 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.
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 2010 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 "half-your-age-plus-seven" rule
The "never date anyone under half your age plus seven" rule is a rule of thumb sometimes used to prejudge whether an age difference is socially acceptable. Although the origin of the rule is unclear, it is sometimes considered to have French origin.
In earlier sources, the rule had a different interpretation than in contemporary culture, as it was understood as a formula to calculate ideal 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." Similar interpretation is also present in the 1951 play The Moon Is Blue by F. Hugh Herbert.
The half-your-age-plus seven rule also appears in John Fox, Jr.'s The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come in 1903, in American newspapers in 1931, attributed to Maurice Chevalier, and in The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
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.
- Cougar (slang)
- Chronophilia (Pedophilia, Hebephilia, Ephebophilia, Teleiophilia, Gerontophilia)
- Enjo kōsai "compensated dating"
- Female-led relationship
- Hypergamy the act or practice of marrying someone wealthier
- List of films featuring romances of significant age disparity
- Marriageable age
- Trophy wife
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