Tuesday, May 07, 2013

On Sugar Daddies And Cougars

Those are the sorts of terms some use to denote older men and women (respectively) who have younger  intimate partners, and those are the terms one popularization uses to discuss a study which is about couples where the partners have a large age difference.

Aren't all those slur-terms fascinating, by the way?  The younger partners in such relationships are called gold-diggers (if women) and gigolos (if men).  That those terms are so common might reflect the societal ambivalence attached to such pairings. 

The study which is introduced to us via the terms of sugar daddies and cougars is about married partners:

Unfortunately for attractive young people looking for a wealthy, older romantic partner to take care of them, there are relatively few “cougars” and “sugar daddies” in real life, a new study from the University of Colorado Denver.
In fact, it seems that those married to significantly younger or older mates have on average lower earnings, lower cognitive abilities, are less educated and less attractive than couples of similar ages.
“Hugh Hefner is an outlier,” said Hani Mansour, Ph.D., an assistant professor of economics at CU Denver. “Our results call into question the conventional wisdom regarding differently-aged couples.”
The study, co-authored with Terra McKinnish, Ph.D., associate professor of economics at the University of Colorado Boulder, was published online last week in the Review of Economics and Statistics. It showed that those married to older or younger spouses scored negatively in key areas like education, occupational wages, appearance and cognitive skills.
The researchers did not give a range of how much older or younger a spouse had to be to see these effects. It simply found that the greater the age difference, the higher the negative indicators.

I haven't looked at the actual study.  But if it is correctly done* the results are not good news for those evolutionary psychologists who argue that women have evolved to want to partner with older men because older men have more resources.   That's the gold-digger hypothesis about human women, and you may have read about it as an explanation for why people like Rush Limbaugh can find younger wives.

In fact, most people have partners roughly their own age.  That makes sense for many reasons, including the fact that it maximizes the potential length of the partnership**.  This doesn't deny the possibility of love as the foundation for partnerships where the partners are very different in age or other demographic characteristics.

*The Review of Economics and Statistics is a fairly rigorous journal.  I'm not too keen, however, on the pure market model of marriage which some parts of that popularization suggest the authors used.
**In the sense of the average for both partners.