Too Young Or Too Old To Date: Partner Age Preferences of Men and Women

Too Young Or Too Old To Date


Men and women have contrasting preferences regarding the age of their sexual partners.

Once I got into the dating game myself, I began to wonder what is it that drives me and others to find preferred mates. I was in college back then; specifically one that had just women in them, so there were conversations around this subject.

Soon enough, I found a pattern – most of them wanted stable relationships, also preferred the relationship to escalate to marriage.

Elizabeth Bruch, a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, says, “Three-quarters, or more, of people are dating aspirationally.” (1)

There were some exceptions, of course. On the contrary, the mentalities of my male friends were a bit different. All they wanted to do was have a good time and settle into life when “the calling” came. 

In time, I saw that there were more nuances to this.  As I read and experienced, I realized that the themes I had seen among people I knew closely, were being repeated in other social groups (that I wasn’t part of). And that gender had a lot to do with the choice.

These disintegrated pieces of information came together to form something cohesive – that women look for men who can provide them emotional support and bring stability, while men keep an eye on women who are physically attractive and as a corollary, fertile in the most biological sense.

But is that all that matters? Apparently, that is not all.

In more studies than one, researchers have figured that when it comes to the dating game, men and women actually work with age preferences, though with varying differences.

So, what’s age got to do with it?

Dating has to do quite a bit with the external appearance of one’s age.

Many have cited the “half plus seven” rule across studies, while others have plotted and replotted what it means to date with age preferences in mind.

This rule is meant to find out the minimum acceptable age of a prospective partner based on your own.

So, if you’re 40, according to the rule, you ought to date someone no less than 27 (half 40 and you get 20, then add 7). (2)

There is also the other side of the rule, albeit being much talked about topic, to establish the maximum acceptable age of a prospective partner, in such case, you subtract 7 from your age and then double it. 

The “half plus seven” rule has been around for quite some time now. It made early appearances in the book “Her Royal Highness Woman” by Max ‘o Reil and “The Moon is Blue”, a 1951 play by F. Hugh Herbert. (3)

The rule certainly allows people to make estimations of their shifting age preferences, but beyond that I have wondered how it reflects actual real-world preferences of both men and women.

Interesting studies across the world have tried to take a dig deeper into this and the findings are revealed.

What do the studies reveal?

In a study conducted by researchers Buunk and Djistra, first published in 2002, it was found that:

  • Men prefer a higher age compared to the minimum acceptable age as defined by the rule, when it comes to marriage and relationships. (4)
  • The age of a prospective partner in marriage is still slightly higher than the age of someone they’d consider for a relationship.
  • On the contrary, for falling in love, casual affairs and sexual fantasies, the bar dips much lower than the minimum acceptable age, that for sexual fantasies being much lower.
  • In terms of maximum acceptable age bar, men seem to want to stay well within the bounds. The study in fact states that men in their 40’s prefer women about the same age.

For women, on the other hand:

  • The preferred age for marriage, relationships, falling in love, casual affairs as well as sexual fantasies seem to out-shoot the minimum bar set by “the rule”.
  • In terms of the maximum preferred age bar, the study reports that in reality women are more conservative.

While “the rule” indicates that a 30 year old woman can date anyone up to the age of 46 (subtract 7 from 30 and then double 23), the study by Buunk and Djistra quotes that most 30 year old women prefer that their partners are within 40 years of age. 

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