How many younger men date older women?

Cristen Conger

Over on the Stuff Mom Never Told You YouTube channel (or SMNTY TV as I like to call to no one in particular), a 22-year-old fella asked for advice about dating older women. His rationale made sense, if a touch over-generalized: all the other women his age "are really shallow and are just after money and constantly seeking attention," hence his decision to pursue ladies around six to 10 years older "because they have their priorities straight." But in exchange for finding his apparently ideal dating demographic, he endures ribbing from guy friends who insist that it's weird.

Once I mentally moved along from the odd fact I now fall into 22-year-old guys' idea of "old," I advised him to ignore his pals. Dating an older woman isn't weird at all -- it's simply not as common. In fact (and very heteronormatively speaking) older men dating and marrying younger women is so much the norm academia still hasn't gotten around to more intensively investigating the older woman-younger man dating dynamic. One of the only studies I could find on the topic, "Older Women/Younger Men: A Look at the Implications of Age Difference in Marriage" notes in its abstract (ah, the frustrations of journal paywalls): "While there is a lot of information in the literature about men who date and marry younger women, the research on this subject is very limited or outdated."

What the researchers did find in their interviews with eight married couples with wives at least 10 years older than their husbands echoed part of the YouTube commentor's query: the men especially enjoyed the women's maturity and confidence, while the women appreciated the younger guys' vitality. Likewise, the lead researchers told The New York Times that while the women also reported some age-related anxiety (hearkening back again to the older men-younger women romantic custom), the couples overall were quite in happy. In fact, the most significant relationship stressor cited was catching flack from outsiders who assumed, like YouTube buddy's bros, that something must be inherently amiss about these couples.

So just how often to younger men marry up, age-wise? Not a ton, but also more than hecklers might assume. According to 2012 U.S. Census data, 14.2 percent of American husbands are at least two years younger than their wives. As that age disparity widens, the proportion of older wives shrinks with about 5.4 percent of husbands being 5 years younger than their wives, and 1.6 percent 10 years younger. And although that's a modestly sized group, I wouldn't be surprised if this dating pattern becomes more common considering how 40 percent of people over 50 in the U.S. are single (and presumably ready to mingle?), and the "cougar" label is losing its novelty, having peaked in 2009.

And all of this said, one marriage stat of note: far and away, the greatest proportion of spouses don't really marry up or down but almost exactly equal, with 33.3 percent (an entire third of a wedding cake) settle down with someone within one year of their age.