Age, many say, is just a number, but the research and many of you on the advice boards, say otherwise. Surprisingly, researchers reported that couples in age-gap relationships (defined as relationships with at least a ten year age difference), reported experiencing significantly more social disapproval than same-sex or interracial relationships (Lehmiller & Agnew, 2006). An example of this in practice was the marriage of Anna Nicole Smith (then 26) to J. Howard Marshall (then 89) in 1994. Many remember the controversy surrounding this nuptial, which confirms that society generally disapproves of May-December relationships where the man is vastly older than the woman, but what if the tables were turned? Do older woman who date younger men face the same criticism?
What does research say about women that date younger men?
The recent phenomenon of a woman dating a younger man, also playfully known as a Cougar, has been popularized in the mass media. Some of the most popular Cougars in the media today are Demi Moore, Cameron Diaz, Courtney Cox-Arquette as Jules Cobb in Courgartown, and Kim Cattrall as Samantha Jones in Sex and the City. Although these women are celebrities and fictional characters on television series it seems like they might be onto something that is more than just a trend. In the United States, women are now older than men in approximately one-third of all marriages (Banks & Arnold, 2001). Despite this previous fact, researchers have found that in general both sexes disapproved of age-gap relationships (defined in this study as age differences of 5-50 years) regardless of which sex was older. Women-older relationships (when the woman is older than her male partner) received more opposition than any other type of relationship they were examining (i.e. men-older relationships, similarly aged partners).
In spite of the disapproval by the general public, research has found that both individuals in a women-older relationship were significantly more satisfied with and committed to their relationships and partner, than their woman-younger and similarly aged counterparts (Lehmiller & Agnew, 2008). To find out why, click here to read more.