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Men Don’t Really Get Better-Looking With Age

Power, money, and biology may play a role in initial attraction to older men, but that illusion doesn't last.

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The notion that men get more attractive with age is not exactly true, according to developmental psychologist Michelle Drouin says. And yet, a recent study found that, at least in the online dating world, women reach peak desirability around age 18. Men peak at age 50.

“Preferences are really hard to measure,” Drouin told Fatherly. “We’re actually pretty bad at figuring out what we like. What technology does is give us a record of our preferences.”

Still, there’s a big gap between these initial impulses and long-term happiness, and studies suggest most successful couples tend to be closer in age, Drouin notes. She explains why the notion of older men’s appeal may be exaggerated — and why it is logical that, if some men get more attractive age despite harsh beauty standards, the same could be said for older women.

Why are women attracted to older men?

Many of the theories relied on to explain attraction are evolutionary ones. Women are in their prime reproductive years in their twenties and early thirties, and that has been given as an explanation for why men may seek young women. Not specifically because they’re looking to reproduce necessarily but because these cues for reproduction are something they’re responding to, biologically. Women might look for a partner with more resources with which to care for any children. The older men get, typically, the more power they have, the more monetary resources they have, and they may be able to provide for any children.

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Is that theory somewhat controversial?

The evolutionary theories are controversial, that’s why there’s opposing theories about the structures in society and men having more power in an American one. Men tend to have more monetary power in our society. So this power and money is positive status in our society [and may be less evolutionary than societal]. Since men tend to already have that, they don’t always look for that in a partner [which explains why men tend not to chase older women].

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Is technology changing this, or making it more intense?

Technology is salient because it gives a glimpse into these preferences. What happens when these people meet face to face? A man in his 40s may not have anything in common with a 20-year-old. So you don’t know the outcome of these attempts. They’re just measuring preferences. That’s why there’s chemistry. There’s decision we make in hot environments and cold environments. Looking at someone on a dating app is a cold in environment. A hot environment is where your feelings may overcome you, and in a hot environment someone who may not have attracted you in a cold, clinical, online setting might be very attractive to you, and that’s chemistry. Technology can’t account for that.

Is it possible older men are seen as more appealing because women mature faster, and men closer to their age may be seen as immature?

I think that stops being true once you get into a certain age group. There’s a reproductive clock for women, there is an endpoint to the ability to reproduce, whereas for men that may happen later because they don’t have as much of a ticking clock. So it’s not so much maturity, but when these timers are going off in their minds about their reproductive abilities. It may not be on a conscious level. An attraction to older men has to do with ideas of power and money, and maturity is a part of it, but the power part is a stronger driver.

Is the idea of older men being attractive inflated, then?

Research shows men and women are looking for the same thing. They want someone who’s kind and understanding. While physical attractiveness may be higher on a man’s list, for women it’s still pretty high. And technology for the first time is allowing us to get an in depth look at people’s preferences. But when you look at the couples who actually work out are usually couples who are similar. You don’t have a ton of couples with big age gaps.

Do older male celebrities drive this misconception that older men may be more attractive?

Well. We also have older female celebrities that are revered, so I think it’s almost equal. People are still saying how beautiful Cindy Crawford and Christie Brinkley are. And the man who’s 50 isn’t often dating the girl that’s 18, and when that does happen it’s really sensationalized in a negative way.

Or there’s George Clooney, who’s a good example of an attractive older man. People seemed pretty happy that he ended up with someone age appropriate.

Sure, but I don’t think that was really surprising. No one expected him to be dating an 18-year-old, even if younger women are attracted to him.

So is society not as harsh on women about their looks and aging as people maybe think?

There’s definitely much more societal pressure for women to do anything they can to combat aging. Whereas for men, at least as far as cultural perceptions go, just accept the aging process. So we’re definitely fueling that in our cultural. That might be fueling the skincare industry but I don’t think it’s having a huge effect on how people pick their long term partners. There may be some false pressure women are putting on each other and that the media is driving. But maybe that’s not a realistic expectation.

So maturity can be attractive to men and women, as long as there’s chemistry?

Yes, I think so. World knowledge increases as we get older for both men and women, and what you see here is a preference for that. But then maybe there’s a strong pull from biology or media, or perhaps both.

What is the final word, then? Is it that both men and women get more attractive with age? 

I think that is a good way to look at it. Maybe we all get better with age. I recently asked my husband if he’d ever date anyone in their twenties and he said ‘God no.’ Although physically attractive, I don’t think that’s where his mind is at. I think men and women are on the same page. Women don’t want to raise their partners, but neither do men.