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Age preferences in mates reflect sex differences in human reproductive strategies

  • Douglas T. Kenrick (a1) and Richard C. Keefe (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 May 2011

The finding that women are attracted to men older than themselves whereas men are attracted to relatively younger women has been explained by social psychologists in terms of economic exchange rooted in traditional sex-role norms. An alternative evolutionary model suggests that males and females follow different reproductive strategies, and predicts a more complex relationship between gender and age preferences. In particular, males' preferences for relatively younger females should be minimal during early mating years, but should become more pronounced as the male gets older. Young females are expected to prefer somewhat older males during their early years and to change less as they age. We briefly review relevant theory and present results of six studies testing this prediction. Study 1 finds support for this gender-differentiated prediction in age preferences expressed in personal advertisements. Study 2 supports the prediction with marriage statistics from two U.S. cities. Study 3 examines the cross-generational robustness of the phenomenon, and finds the same pattern in marriage statistics from 1923. Study 4 replicates Study 1 using matrimonial advertisements from two European countries, and from India. Study 5 finds a consistent pattern in marriages recorded from 1913 through 1939 on a small island in the Philippines. Study 6 reveals the same pattern in singles advertisements placed by financially successful American women and men. We consider the limitations of previous normative and evolutionary explanations of age preferences and discuss the advantages of expanding previous models to include the life history perspective.

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