I’ve been fortunate to have an article I wrote be published in two different student newspapers: York University’s Excalibur, and Ryerson University’s Ryerson Free Press. I am reprinting the latter version here.
Despite media portrayals to the contrary—think Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, or Calista Flockhart and Harrison Ford—dating older men may not be as great as it looks. Before I outline the reasons why a relationship with an older man is risky, I have a confession to make: I used to date a man 13 years my senior. I was madly in love with him. So much so, that when an essay assignment came up and the profs told us we could write about any topic we wanted, I chose relationships between younger women and older men.
I was in for a few surprises.
Although relevant and credible research about them is scant, I managed to glean a few things. First of all, several studies have shown that, besides unwanted pregnancy, young women are at an increased risk of contracting sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) the “higher up,” age-wise, they date. This makes sense, as sexual experience and, thus, potential for exposure to STIs tend to increase with age.
Also, an analysis of Canada’s 2001 Census of Population reveals that the greater the age difference between married couples, the lower their combined income as opposed to couples who are nearer in age, and the more likely they are to be below the low income cut-offs. Thus, rather than receiving a boost in income and status, younger women may risk their health and financial future in entering an age-disparate relationship. Instances to the contrary exist, as noted at the beginning of the article, but movie stars, despite their god-like standing in Western culture, make up an elite whose experiences cannot be considered representative of the rest of society.
Another caveat: recent scientific research indicates that an age difference of 15 years or more in a younger woman/older man couple is often interpreted and reacted to in the same manner as father-daughter incest. Respondents to a questionnaire asking for their opinion on age-different relationship scenarios tended to believe that the younger partner was looking for a surrogate parental figure, was interested primarily in the older partner’s resources, and that, as a whole, these kinds of relationships are unacceptable.
These findings challenge the media’s praising of age-discordant relationships, and show that, although our culture strives not to discriminate against less-than-orthodox partnerships, certain biases continue to exist against them.
But before you give older men the red light, you should know about a possible advantage to dating them. It turns out that choosing an older man as your partner may have evolutionary advantages to the human species. Evolutionary theorists have long posited that, in searching for a mating partner, men tend to seek out young, attractive females, while women look for a mature, reliable male who can provide for them and their offspring.
Taking that as their starting point, scientists compiled data on several indigenous tribes whose lifestyle most resembles that of our ancestors, with a focus on the fertility rates of older men. They found that, in choosing younger women, the much older men pass on the genes that allowed them to live that long to their children. On an individual level, young women bearing the children of older men may not necessarily guarantee that either partner will live longer, but a “spillover effect” can take place which benefits the human population as a whole.
But, despite these possible benefits, an analysis of contemporary research reveals that the younger woman in an age-gap relationship risks social disapproval, unwanted pregnancy, venereal disease, and even, surprisingly, financial insecurity more so than a woman in an equal-age partnership. These findings point to the need for a re-evaluation of commonly held beliefs, as well as further research.
Word Count: 609; Ryerson Free Press (December 2010/January 2011)
December 14, 2010: http://ryersonfreepress.ca/site/archives/2416