The Real Reason Men Like To Date Younger Women Isn't What You Think

Two ideas have long been accepted about the general relationship between men and women. Most believe that men inherently prefer to date (and marry) younger women. The reasoning is usually that a younger woman is more attractive (i.e., fertile) than a woman who's the same age or — gasp! — older. In other words, evolution has designed men to find perky breasts, shiny hair, and wrinkle-free faces very appealing — because a woman who possesses such attributes is more likely to have healthy babies.

Actually, despite society's long-standing belief in these ideas, the fact is that neither theory has been supported by scientific evidence (per The Outline). They are just guesses. Could it be possible that evolution has nothing to do with this age gap between men and women? Or that men are attracted to younger women for reasons other than their breasts, hair, and face?

A study conducted in Finland suggests that heterosexual men are, indeed, generally attracted to much younger women (per CBS News). In the study, the researchers asked nearly 2,700 adults between the ages of 18 and 50 the age range they would "consider" for a sex partner, as well as the ages of their actual partners over the past five years. The women surveyed, with an average age of 35, said that the youngest age they would consider for a sex partner was (on average) 27. Not surprisingly, the men, whose average age was 37, reported that the youngest age they'd consider for their sex partner was much lower, at 21. OK, so far it's what we might expect.

Where it gets complicated

Although it preceded the Finnish study by some 27 years, a classic study of 37 cultures conducted by evolutionary psychologist David Buss found that men chose to marry women an average of 2.66 years younger than them, and that women preferred men 3.42 years older. Buss's opinion was that these age preferences are likely due to evolution.

However, in the much more current Finnish study, it was also found that men typically had sex with women close to their own age, and did not differ much from women when it came to the oldest sex partner age they would "consider." What's more, the older a man got, the higher went the age of the youngest woman he'd consider having sex with. For every year a man aged, the youngest age of his potential sex partner rose by two months. 

To add more statistics to the tangle of numbers we already have, Kelly Feighan, a grad student at Temple University, found that between the years 1910 and 2010 to 2014, the percentage of men who married a woman 11 or more years younger (in a first marriage) dropped from 18.9 to 2.3 percent. During that same time period, the difference in age between spouses also dropped, from 4.07 to 1.86 years.

Needless to say, there's no real consensus among experts about whether men inherently prefer younger women. The Buss study suggests men do, while both the Finnish study and Feighan's findings suggest they don't — or maybe they do, but not as much as they used to. Which leads us to another question: if men do prefer to date and marry younger women, why?

Why do men prefer younger women?

There's a strong competing notion to the evolution theory that men are not naturally endowed to prefer younger women for mating purposes. Rather, it's society that's leading them in that direction. Indeed, current statistics indicate that the age gap between men and women in dating and marriage is decreasing. According to the U.S. Census, men are an average of 1.84 years older than their wives. And then there's the Finnish study, which was, of course, conducted in Finland. In that country, there is a high level of "gender equality," said Jan Antfolk, one of the study's researchers. The theory is that when there's greater gender equality, there's less of an age gap between partners.

With the current belief in this country that men prefer younger women, there's a conjoined idea — that men are drawn in strictly by the younger woman's glowing looks and shapely body. But at least one person disagrees. Author Zoe Williams writes in The Guardian that men like younger women because they believe (hope) that such women have opinions that aren't fully formed yet, and that they find an older man to be "right about most things." In other words, they offer a man of a certain age admiration. And the fact that such admiration comes with a side of perky breasts and cellulite-free legs, well, that's just luck.