Wednesday, July 5
You don't have to be a sociobiological enthusiast to notice that women seem more likely to be romantically interested in a man a decade or more older than they are than for a man to be interested in a similarly older woman. The year Sean Connery was in his mid-60s and voted Sexiest Man Alive, you did not see Olympia Dukakis voted Sexiest Woman Alive. A separate hypothesis suggested by observing the experience of friends is that women in academia seem even more enthusiastic about relationships with older men (fellow academics or otherwise) than women in general. I do not have any explanation from why this might be the case, but it seems like it is.

I was thinking about all this recently when I was talking to a female academic who has been dating someone roughly a quarter century older than she is. We were talking about someone else we know in a similar March-December relationship who does research in demography. You would think, if any women in academia would be averse to embarking on a relationships with men old enough to be their fathers, it would be the demographers. It's like, if you do end up madly in love with one another and everything works out, you can plan on him starting to break down within a few years of your honeymoon, and, given current projects, you either have 3-4 decades of widowhood to look forward to or you can hope to beat the steep odds in the widow dating market.


Turquoise Stuff said...

I don't get the comment about demographers. Why would they be more likely to do this?

Years ago I had a conversation about this (especially regarding the occurence of this in academia) with a guy friend in his mid-20s at the time. He said that women date older men because the women are looking for/attracted to the prestige/status of the older men. He claimed the older men are just looking for the good looks in the younger women. I thought this was a major oversimplification of issues. It's a diss on both parties, because it assumes that the women have nothing more to offer than their young looks and the men have nothing more to offer than their status.

So why does all this happen as much as it does especially in academia? You didn't really address that.

Clear said...

Demographers study life tables and mortality and all that, so they would seem acutely aware of the long-term implications of a female partnering with a substantially older male.

Turquoise Stuff said...

Thanks for the explanation, Clear. I think I may have misunderstood the original post at first. I thought Scarlet was claiming that it made sense for demographers to be more likely to end up in such relationships. The original post was stating the opposite. Got it!

Of course, one could argue that given their knowledge of all this, and given what my friend claimed back when we had this conversation, demographers are just being smart by going with the status/prestige recognizing that in a few years they'll be out of the relationship due to natural causes anyway. (I think that's mostly bs, but I wouldn't be surprised if some people believed it.)

thistle said...

Why do academic women go for older men? One reason may be that older men are likely to be less intimidated by an academic woman's success than men her same age.

Cerise said...

Aren't the steep odds in the widow dating market partially due to the comparatively higher age of widows? So wouldn't you be better off as a young widow if you were going to be one?

I think thistle has a really good point. I can imagine that some people argue that academic men in general should be less intimidated by academic women; I don't think that I have overall found this to be the case.

From general observation, it also seems like men are more likely to come into academia with a romantic partner. This leads to the problem that there are fewer men available in the academic dating pool overall (that being the most immediately available dating pool to academic women). It may also be that, because of the general social norm that it's okay for women to date older men, the women then turn their attention to the older men with the idea that they'll be able to outcompete the women in that age group with the advantage of youth--but I still think thistle is on to a major part of it.

On another note, somewhat correlated with status might be ambition. I know that a central issue I've had in relationships with men closer to my own age (I've never actually dated anyone who wasn't at least a couple of years older) is a total lack of ambition or direction of any kind on their part, which annoys me. I like a guy who's demonstrated a rudimentary ability to make plans.

Turquoise Stuff said...

Good point thistle. And good points Cerise. I've dated guys of various ages. Some of the young ones were quite ambitious. Of those, at least one couldn't deal with the fact that I was doing quite well. He was mature enough to recognize this and we talked about it, but in the end it just didn't work. Another one was super supportive and proud of all my accomplishments while being ambitious himself so I don't think it's always the case that younger guys can't appreciate a successful woman. In that case, other issues didn't work.

But overall I think it's true that it is harder to find younger guys who can handle a successful ambitious woman. Older men don't have to prove anything anymore (well, assuming they are successful in some domain as well) so they can focus more energies on appreciating the younger woman and her accomplisments (and I definitely don't just mean her youth).

Salmon Ella said...

I agree that older men may be less intimidated by 'ambitious, successful women' than younger men, but how does that explain that supposedly this phenomenon occurs more in academia than in the rest of the world? Do you all really think that only women in academia are worthy of being considered 'successful' and 'ambitious'? I disagree wholeheartedly. Also, is there any evidence that this is more common in academia other than one poster's personal experience? It seems common in the entertainment world, too (not that I'm that 'up' on the entertainment world).

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