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Why Do Younger Women Typically Date Older Men?

These are some musings about relationships and the dynamics between men and women. I don’t consider myself an expert on these issues, and I’m writing this article, as always, mostly for myself.

Women are primarily valued for their youth and beauty. Their beauty is mostly inborn and usually peaks in their early to mid 20s. This is when men generally view women as most attractive. Men also desire purity – meaning they prefer women who haven’t slept with too many other men – and, if they want children, fertility. Purity and fertility also correlate with youth.

Men, on the other hand, are typically desired primarily for their ability to provide – ie money – and status. Most men are not born with these qualities; it takes time to make money and gain status. Men usually reach peak attractiveness around their 30s and 40s, sometimes even later. Their prime can last a lot longer than women’s and is more flexible.

By definition, both sexes are most attractive in their prime, and so younger women tend to date older men. I think that answers the question in the headline. But there’s more to explore, so I’ll expand a bit.

Women can enhance their appearance by wearing makeup, high heels, noticeable clothing (eg bright colors such as pink, also shiny jewelry), and so on, in hopes that they’ll get noticed by men they find attractive. Some women go as far as having cosmetic surgery. These efforts can be deceptive both to men and the women themselves, but honest efforts, such as going to the gym, are available to women as well. In these ways, women can extend their window some and attract more potential mates – though that usually includes unwanted attention from men whom these women consider undesirable (eg catcalling).

Men can enhance their appearance, too, but it’s less important than for women. When men do do it, it’s usually more honest (eg wearing dress shoes with comparably small heels vs women’s high heels). Instead of signaling beauty, men can appear more attractive to women by signaling wealth (eg a sports car) or status (eg powerful connections).

Because women are generally wanted mostly for their beauty, they control access to sex. Men, on the other hand, because they are typically desired mainly for their ability to provide financial stability and status, control access to commitment. (Therefore, when a man falls to his knees to propose, hoping nervously she will say ‘yes’, he is usually either clueless or humoring her.) In short, they each control access to, and are desired for, something they do not want as much as the other sex. Oftentimes, men want sex more than they are willing to offer commitment, and vice versa for women. This asymmetry is bad because it’s a recipe for unhappiness and disappointed expectations.

When asked what they look for in a woman, men are typically honest. Everyone knows that men generally want the hot girlfriend or the trophy wife. They usually don’t turn down women who are poor, and they generally don’t consider rich women more attractive, all else being equal. Women, on the other hand, are often deceptive when it comes to communicating their preferences, both to themselves and others. They generally shouldn’t be looked to for relationship advice. They may say they look for a guy who has a sense of humor, someone who is confident, tall, etc – maybe ‘emotionally mature’, which is how some women explain the age gap from the headline. These explanations usually either aren’t true or they can be disregarded relatively safely. While men’s looks aren’t completely unimportant, women will generally happily look past a short stature, gut, receding hairline, poor sex drive, and also emotional immaturity, if the man instead has enough money and/or status, or at least the potential to gain either one in the near future.

Young women who anticipate wanting a family should prioritize finding a man early, while they’re still young and at their most beautiful. Again, most women are at their most attractive in their early and mid 20s – this is the best time to attract a promising mate. Nothing could be further from the truth for men, however. Although young men will undoubtedly be attracted to their female peers, these men are no match for higher-value, older men. Therefore, younger men do well not to concentrate on dating in their 20s and should instead work on themselves.

Notably, this is a good strategy both for men who anticipate wanting a family and those who do not. In either case, using one’s youth as a man to develop oneself, learn skills, become financially stable, maybe even financially independent, and so on, is going to be a win whether there’s a family on the horizon or not. Such a man develops personally and is accountable for his life in a way some women who focus on relationships and status never will be. It could be argued that those young women who prioritize their beauty to find a man who will take care of them and provide stability remain in a state of adolescence for the remainder of their lives – unless something changes and they undergo the same maturing process many men go through.

So there’s another asymmetry here. While women get most of the attention early on, and while what they’re valued for most fades quickly, men have it a little harder in the beginning but win in the long run because they’re better off working on themselves either way.

Some of the men and women who are confused about what the other sex wants assume it wants the same things. For example, some women may think that, since they desire financial stability in men, men desire that in women, too. They may think that if they themselves have a great career and make a lot of money, they will be more desirable in their 30s, say. But, again, the truth is that men generally don’t really care whether women have money; whether they can offer financial stability or status – what matters is that they’re hot. No doubt some women will think that these men are mistaken in their desires – but one fitting analogy I’ve heard online is that, even if you think people are wrong to prefer new cars over used ones, that alone won’t change their preferences, and you better cater to their preferences if you want to be a successful car salesman (or saleswoman, in this case). And when women do have a job, they typically want their partner to make at least as much as them.

Conversely, some men who observe in themselves a desire for beauty may draw the mistaken conclusion that women desire beauty in men. As a result, these men may focus too much on how they look. But, again, the truth is that women generally don’t really care about beauty in men; whether men have a full head of hair or abs – what matters is that they can provide money and/or status.

Here’s another type of mistake. Because women control access to sex, they may mistakenly think that they also control access to commitment and relationships. But as I’ve said, it is men who control that. Women who do not realize this mistake underestimate the difficulty of finding a relationship in their 30s and beyond, especially if they raise their expectations as they get older (which is another mistake).

Likewise, men who prioritize dating and partying in their 20s often fail to realize that they instead should have used that time to make something of themselves. They’ll have more difficulty finding a beautiful woman to call their own.

These mistakes on both sides can lead to exceptions to the rule, where both parties to a couple are the same age, or sometimes the man is younger even than the woman.

I think men are wrong to objectify women for their beauty – this is uncontroversial. But I also think that women are wrong to objectify men for their money and status. Both mating strategies cause suffering, for men in the short run and for women in the long run. I think we’d be wise to change that somehow.


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What people are saying

I don’t know what you mean by we should change that. Any sort of planned mass intervention would be a disaster. People’s preferences should not be attempted to be steered in some direction. The best you can do, if you think a close enough person is making a mistake, is talk to them and express concern. If, on the other hand, you don’t like that there aren’t enough people who value depth of connection and that this makes it statistically less likely for you to find a desirable partner, you should not get involved with people who don’t meet that standard.

#543 · Ante Skugor (people may not be who they say they are) · on an earlier version (v1) of this post

I agree that planned mass intervention would be a disaster – I’m a libertarian so I think that any such top-down attempt would be immoral anyway, let alone impossible. Instead, I was talking about slowly changing the culture from within.

Creating awareness of the issues as I’ve described them could be a start. Men could decide to pay less attention to beauty in women and instead value other traits more. Or they could both decide to deprioritize sex and dating in general.

#544 · dennis (verified commenter) · on an earlier version (v1) of this post in response to comment #543

But you’re still talking as if men are a homogenous, decision making entity. As if they’re an organism and individual men are the cells that constitute it.
Trying to slowly change the culture from within sounds to me like some engineering project. And I think that engineering projects shouldn’t be attempted on people’s free choices. It’s the same thing socialists try when they say: “People aren’t donating to charity enough therefore we have to somehow make them do it more.”. The fact that they’re willing to use force is worse but your argument has the same structure.
Whether or not a dating landscape that you’re imagining would be better or worse, I don’t know. But individuals shouldn’t be making choices based on what they think the dating market ought to look like. If there’s much more happiness, love and fun in paying less attention to beauty and such, then when they’re exposed to it people will naturally gravitate towards it.

#545 · Ante Skugor (people may not be who they say they are) · on an earlier version (v2) of this post in response to comment #544

I agree that engineering projects shouldn’t be attempted on people’s free choices. To be very clear, I think men would benefit from focusing less on women, but I’m not prepared to tell anyone what they should and should not do (unless they employ coercion).

You wrote:

[I]ndividuals shouldn’t be making choices based on what they think the dating market ought to look like.

Let’s see how this compares to other markets. Continuing with the car market, if someone is looking to buy a car but decides the market isn’t favorable at the moment, isn’t he right to wait until conditions improve? Or, if he decides not to participate in that market because he finds some fundamental flaws with it, isn’t he right to withdraw from it? And if the answer to both questions is ‘yes’, how is the dating market different?

#548 · dennis (verified commenter) · on an earlier version (v2) of this post in response to comment #545

What I meant by the comment that you cited was that an individual’s choice on how to behave in the dating market should not be guided by something like: “If I behave in a certain way it’s going to change the market in some specified way.” The same way that when buying a car it shouldn’t be: “I’m going to buy an electric car because it’s more environment friendly.”
For what it’s worth, I found male-female relationships to be an amazing teaching tool for getting to know myself better. And that’s irrespective of the kind of people I meet on the dating market.

#549 · Ante Skugor (people may not be who they say they are) ·

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