A new study finds that men’s preferences for their partner’s age are influenced by whether or not they want to have children. Men who want children or who do not have children prefer younger women, while age preferences in women are not as strongly associated with the desire or desire to have children. These results are consistent with evolutionary theories about mate choice, which suggest that males and females prioritize different traits in a mate because of their different contributions to offspring.
The research was published in the journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences.
“As an evolutionary psychology professor, I talk about the differences in mate preferences that women and men tend to exhibit,” said study author Robin SS Kramer, a senior professor at the University of Lincoln.
“An example is preferred mate age: men tend to find women most attractive in their early to mid-20s, while women are attracted to men who are a little older than themselves. The explanation for these preferences has always been formulated in terms of reproduction, and such It occurred to me that we might see a change in preferences when people didn’t want kids or when people already had kids.”
To examine whether having or wanting children predicts the importance of age as a dating criterion, Kramer and his co-author Alex L. Jones analyzed two large datasets of profile information obtained in collaboration with eharmony UK. The researchers examined the responses of 605,743 single, heterosexual users aged between 20 and 50. The eharmony users indicated how many children they had, whether they wanted (more) children and the importance of age as a matching criterion.
The importance of age when finding a match was rated lower by users who had children. This effect was more pronounced in younger users, but decreased as users got older.
The researchers also found evidence that wanting or wanting to have children predicted the preferred minimum and maximum ages of those users were willing to date, particularly males.
“Already having children or not wanting children predicted partner’s age preferences for men, but did not appear to affect women’s preferences. Men without children (or those who wanted children) rated age as more important than those with children (or those who did not want children) and also chose a preferred age group that included younger women,” Kramer told PsyPost.
“In contrast, women’s preferences showed little association with having or wanting children. To put it simply, the preferred age for men to marry was lower if they had not yet had children (which tended to go hand in hand with a desire to have children).”
The results are consistent with evolutionary theories of mate choice, which hold that males and females tend to have different attraction patterns because they invest different types of resources in their offspring.
Women invest more of their own physical resources, for example during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Men, on the other hand, provide more indirect resources such as food and security. As a result, men value women’s health and reproductive potential, while women value men’s ability to provide resources. This results in men and women having different ideal ages for their partners.
But the study, like all research, comes with some caveats.
“We could not consider the (possibly) separate influences of desire to have children and desire to have children because there was significant overlap between these two factors,” explained Kramer. “People who wanted children usually didn’t have any. It would be interesting to see if, given the right sample, one of these factors played a greater role than the other.
“It’s also worth noting that our results come from a (large) sample of online data provided by a site where users tend to be interested in building serious, long-term relationships. While it’s likely that such preferences apply more generally to dates (given how many people are now meeting online), those looking for short-term relationships may not be to the same extent when it comes to partner’s age being influenced by wanting or having children preferences.”
“With the growing popularity of online dating sites, it’s clear that they represent relatively untapped resources when it comes to studying real-world preferences and behaviors in large samples of people,” added Kramer. “Of course it can be difficult to get access to these records (we were fortunate enough to work with a popular UK dating site on this case) but it is definitely worth trying as people’s choices at actual dating (online) can be very different than the answers they provide in laboratory studies.”
The study was entitled: “Wanting or having children predicts age preferences in online dating”.